Thursday, June 9, 2011

Laughter and Motherhood

One day this week, my kids and I ran out of the house with score cards to rate my neighbor's lawn mowing performance. My daughter gave the lady a perfect ten. My son, for reasons he could not really articulate, gave her a five, and I gave her a nine (a point off for bad attitude, I said). She turned off the mower as we stood giggling in the grass and flagging our cards. My neighbor rolled her eyes and shook her head at us, but this is my way of keeping the mood light around the house.

I am often much like my own mother was in her childrearing years. She was very serious, very intense, and all business. And while I certainly appreciate her strictness as a parent myself now, what she wasn't was funny or goofy. But I can see why. She had a full emotional plate in those years: difficulties with siblings, caring for terminally ill and elderly relatives, my father's consuming career, her own dedication to graduate school, and then the working of two jobs to put my sister and I in high school and college while she created a name for herself. She raised us without family dropping in regularly to ease the burdens created by small children. My mother was hell-bent to give us the childhood she didn't have because her own holds sad and uncomfortable memories. In her earnestness to provide such stability for us, my mom's sense of humor was not a frequently seen trait. One could never associate her with slap-stick comedy. I often catch myself in long ruts of intensity with my children, remember her as a younger woman doing the same, and I will stop to take a mandatory silly break. It's the way I breathe, and I do this not just for my children and I, but for my mom, even though she is miles away. These moments of humor are episodes I will recount with her later so she can love and laugh with us.

I adore my mother. She has a wonderful laugh, and now that she isn't cracking the whip on my sister and I for fighting and creating general mayheim, I get to hear it all the time. I certainly don't think my childhood was wounded by my mother's towing the line in her straight-laced and straight-faced manner. In fact, my mother was exceptional at providing a myriad of things I haven't seen many other parents give their children in that generation or the ones since: a love of classical music and the visual arts; lessons on how to live within a budget, when and how to build credit, and how to pay off credit cards; the sacrifice of things she wanted so children can have comforts (but not luxuries); how graduation from school is not the end of your education, but the beginning; how and why to adhere to a difficult career choice for the sake of family; and that God sees everything we do. She taught us how to remake, rebuild, rehab, recraft, save, and reuse common items from clothes to pantry goods in order to stretch a dollar and be resourceful.

My mother was magic: she kissed booboos and had a cool hand and soothing voice whenever I was sick. She sewed our toys, our clothes, and crafted ornaments out of almost nothing for Christmas gifts (I still have the full set of papier mache ones she made when I was little. Very retro and I love them.) My mom gave us a fingerpaint set we could use in the laundry room of my first childhood home. She baked our birthday cakes, created fanciful Christmases in the leanest of years, and provided herself as a second mother to girlfriends of mine whose own mothers could be bitter or selfish with their own children. My mom taught me how to love. That she did all of this without cracking jokes much is pretty amazing.

I often tell my step-daughters that I am aware of my being "un-fun" and irritable around my own little ones. I have tried very hard to improve that aspect of household life. Perhaps, like my mother, I take childrearing so seriously that I have a hard time seeing the humor in the chaos as it is unfolding (after the chaos though, everything is funny). I have difficulty laughing at myself and have never taken teasing well, therefore, my teasing others is a rare indulgence. But I know who I am, and my mother knew who she was and what she wanted for us.

This year, I received a slightly suggestive and off-color email joke about the new airport x-ray scanners. You've likely seen these images of a female skeleton in provocative poses. What made the email so shockingly funny was that it was from my mom. Kudos to you, Mom. Keep up the good work.


  1. I would have to say that I am also a member of the un-fun club. In fairness, having 3 teens in a house can certainly get the best of anyone.

    After reading your post, I realize that I also come from a long line of un-fun parents. I am willing to bet that we make up the majority in parenting.

    My husband often remarks that I have two modes; one he calls "mommy mode" and the other is the "real" side of me that comes out when it's just the two of us. I don't think the children would take me seriously if they saw my naturally carefree side. :)

  2. I think we are supposed to be un-fun. And I completely relate to your husband's comment that you have two modes. Mine once said the same. I have tried to show my children more of the "real me" side. We have a big job, though. Fun is a luxury, so we do it in small ways. Coffee dates out. Tickle-cozies. Making silly pictures. It's all good. I'd rather be known for towing the line most of the time. And I know you as a mother--loving, selfless, and spirited. One of the best mothers I know, frankly, especially when I look at how hard you have worked to educate your children in the unique environments that their abilities and challenges have required.


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