April starts with a day I dread-April Fools’ Day. I’ve never liked it. Practical jokes feel mean and embarrassing and I have spent a life time avoiding them. I do not laugh at myself easily, but rather easily feel the sting of a joke. I cannot stomach others being made fun of or laughed at; I will not watch TV shows such as America’s Funniest Home Videos. Maybe it was growing up with a sibling who was easily fooled and often made fun of that impelled me to warn my kids of the pitfalls and possibilities of being the butt of an April Fools’ prank, rather than to plan and execute them. I worried about the struggled with nuance, that they might reacted strongly and with anger if they felt humiliated by a joke. In a school or work setting, if the recipient reacts harshly, he can be further mocked and harangued; the targeted person is at fault. Unquestionably, practical jokes are not my sort of humor, but I love a good side splitting laugh.
Your Uncle Dan’s humor is clever, sophisticated and incredibly dry. It is my constant companion. In my late twenties and early thirties while grappling with grief after your grandparents’ and great-grandmother’s deaths, I often took myself very seriously and feared I had lost my sense of humor. Dan helped me retain it. His humor is playful, topical and even a bit bawdy. He grew up with parents who liked insult humor, Don Rickles was their favorite comedian, but Dan followed his Uncle Jack’s approach of not making a joke at someone else’s expense. While Uncle Jack’s style was slap stick, Dan is witty and often catches his listener off guard. His quiet and polite demeanor is a great façade for a well-timed one-liner that makes people chortle.
And then there is the humor of children. Your brother Thomas, at three, repeatedly told the following knock-knock joke:
Don’t cry, it’s just a joke”
He was ever so pleased with his telling and didn’t tire of laughing at this joke. It was a delight to watch the little tow-head’s burgeoning efforts at humor and how he navigated the nuances of telling the joke. And, Oh, the sound of his little boy voice and his laughter. Even now, decades later, Dan and I still repeat the punch line with his inflection.
When I had Mary Kate I anxiously waited and longingly searched her face for the first smiles. But it was her laughter that caught me by surprise-what a magical moment when six-month old MK went from smiling to laughing. My children’s laughter, like daffodils in springtime, was hopeful, refreshing, and always welcome. I craved for it to fill our home. Vividly I remember Mary Kate jumping up and down in front of baby Patrick as he squealed at his big sister. And the giggles that baby Meg let out when Patrick made goofy faces or funny voices to entertain her are etched not just in my memory but in my heart.
It was fascinating to see what struck them as funny and then how it changed as they grew older. Young Mary Kate twirled around the kitchen singing Baby Beluga, The Bare Necessitiesand other songs, giggling as she sang along. As a grade schooler she liked silly jokes, funny stories, and always had a friend who was comical and entertaining. By high school intelligent humor became her stock-in-trade; ironic, highbrow and clean. And today she is the giver of the wittiest cards.
From early childhood, sketch humor was Patrick’s favorite form of comedy. By four years old, he reenacted movies while watching, taking on the persona of the characters. By second-grade he could memorize skits and imitate voices letting him step into a character and entertain, not only us, but his friends and classmates. That year he was Mr. Bean for Halloween. By middle school, no longer was he the dyslexic kid, but he was the soccer player who did the Harry Caray imitation, the Scottish brogue and a slew of hilarious voices. He enjoyed but didn’t linger long in the sophomoric humor that predominated middle and high school. Thank goodness, because there is only so much bathroom humor and immature boy movies a mom can tolerate. Rather he was the family funnyman or part of a duo when Dan got in on it; I relished their regular Sunday morning recap of SNL’s skits. New schools and new countries brought new material, like the Scouse accent he brought home from Liverpool.
Meg was my child who found all manner of things entertaining and in turn entertained us. Little Meggie rode on her dad’s shoulders singing made-up ditties while patting his head like a drum or holding his hair like the reins of a horse. First grade Meg laughed and danced along at a school performance, enjoying herself with such abandon, that her picture was snapped and put on the front page of the local paper. In fifth grade, she performed the dance from Napoleon Dynamite on stage in front of the entire school. At ease with herself and not easily embarrassed, she played for the laughs. From early childhood, she was the teller of tall tales and in college, she perfected spinning stories that made me want to cringe, cry and correct her, but instead I found I chuckled, chortled and cackled aloud. Her timing is excellent.
As for me, at home when I am not the audience, I am the straight man. I am a good Martin to Meg’s Lewis or Abbot to Dan’s Costello. My peers find me funny with well-timed deadpanned asides, those comments that fly over my kids’ heads or make them roll their eyes. I love a smart quip or retort garnered from the amusing moments that arise in family life.
So, whether it is like the cackle of Aunt B, the belly laugh of your Grandpa or the titter of your Grandma with a hand over her mouth, I wish laughter fills your house. Knock, knock . . .
much love each and every day,