I noticed years ago that kids respond better to humour than almost anything else. The question “Why are there two pairs of shoes under the kitchen table?” irrespective of tone, is generally greeted with defensive excuses, often with some whining thrown in. The same sentence with a touch of humour, eg “Why are there two pairs of shoes under the kitchen table? Do we have half an Octopus visiting for dinner?” generally gets giggles and prompt action to rectify the problem. Complete absence of defensiveness and irritation on all sides. Hard to remember to do when I am tired and grumpy, but definitely worth the attempt.
I’ve also noticed that my favourite people are the ones who can make me laugh on the blackest days. The ones who can take trauma and make me laugh at it are the ones who make it possible for me to survive. Inappropriate humour can be a magical trick. My husband, Andrew, is my primary laugh-giver. This is the man who, when I was struck by sudden explosive morning sickness for the first time said “would you like your toast now, or shall I flush it straight down the loo?”
After listening to a radio program about dementia, I was contemplating the way dementia seems to leave people distilled to the essence of their fundamental character traits. A relative of mine who suffered from Alzheimers remained a perfect gentleman, while all memories and cognitive skills leaked away. He was always a kind and amiable man, and simply became more so as his brain deteriorated. Thinking about this I became somewhat morose and said somewhat bleakly “I wonder what will be left when I become demented?”
Moroseness was blown sky high when Andrew responded “Sheer pedantry. Nothing but red pen.”
I don’t know what my essential character traits are, but I did recognise a profound truth in that moment (once I had recovered from snorting my coffee through my nose). It’s not just kids who respond to humour. Life is easier for all of us if we don’t take ourselves too seriously. If we can take the worst life has to dish out and raise a laugh, or enlist a skilled supporter to raise a laugh for us, then we’ve got a good chance of surviving.You may be right I may be crazy But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for turn out the light don’t try to save me you may be wrong, for all I know, but you may be right.
Billy Joel, You May Be Right.
I take many things far too seriously. As a parent I often get wound up ludicrously tightly over things that simply don’t matter. As a teacher I beat myself up over every class that doesn’t go as planned, and every assignment that doesn’t work the way I intended. As a friend I take on my friends’ problems and sometimes have to be forcibly restrained from making myself responsible for fixing everything for everybody. (I admit it’s possible there’s just a touch of OCD in my family. Not in me of course. But definitely in everyone else.) This isn’t terribly good for maintaining sanity, or balance, or indeed friends.
A couple of years ago I shaved my head on a whim, and it amazed me how seriously some people took it. Some almost cried at the loss of my long blond hair. Some backed away, trying very hard not to make eye contact, and disappeared into the ether – unwilling to risk friendship with such a loose cannon. Still others got very excited, and raved about how brave I had been, and how wonderful it was to do something so different. Throughout it all I often said “it’s just hair, people. It’ll grow back.”
You know what? Life is a lot like that. It’s just life, people. It’ll spring back into shape. It might not be the same shape, but it does tend to bounce back, if you give it a chance, and laughter has an exceptionally good bounce-factor. So next time I’m struggling, I’m going to find someone to make me laugh. I don’t think I’m going to have to look very far.