There are plenty of things to stress over when it comes to parenting: multiplication tables and table manners, vitamin deficiency and sugar overload, caffeine and nicotine, the birds and the bees…I could keep going but I’m starting to feel queasy. One of the least important things to worry about is facilitating the development of a sharp sense of humor in my kids, right? But if I don’t do it, who will? Spongebob? I don’t think I want to leave something this important in his skinny, less-than capable, yellow hands.
I have a few theories about what makes a person funny:
Most of kids’ television shows today are pretty lame. The laugh tracks and the predictable storylines make me want to rip my hair out or, at the very least, change the channel. We’ve tried to strike a happy balance in our kids’ television and movie-watching habits. We don’t want them to be totally unable to relate to their peers so we’ll let them watch a few current shows and movies (I especially like Word Girl and Electric Company. And there’s nothing better for fun family entertainment than whatever is the newest Pixar movie.). To keep things interesting, we’ll add in some episodes from The Dick Van Dyke show, The Andy Griffith show, and I Love Lucy. My girls are becoming junior aficionados of musicals from the 1940’s and 1950’s. That should wow their fellow 5th graders. After I teach them the card game Mille Bornesand the finer art of constructing tissue cozy covers out of plastic canvas, their education will be complete. Voted Most Popular of the class of 2020? You’re welcome, girls.
Speaking of girls, I think it’s trickier for women to be funny. I’m not blaming chromosomes or uterine lining for it; I’m blaming society. At some point, most girls are brainwashed to believe that they must giggle at every little thing said by the boys they like. This is usually done during the crucial humor development ages of 8-14. They should be making their friends laugh with witty and carefully crafted comments about their chorus teacher not giggling at fart jokes made by the baseball team. Why do you think that most successful comediennes are of the sexual orientation that makes flirting with boys negligible? Growing up, they didn’t care if they made the boys around them feel hilarious. I’m not saying you have to be gay to be a funny woman—not at all—but just think about my theory the next time you’re watching Ellen.
Another important part of nurturing my kids’ love of Funny is making sure they’re open to unusual experiences. These are comedy fodder. I’ll give you two recent examples from my own life:
I am the co-director for the Shining Stars, a children’s sign language/singing group at my church. We were asked to sing on a Sunday for a large group of Chinese who were coming to our building for a special service. We had chosen “Revelation Song,” a song we’d been practicing for a few weeks. At the Wednesday night practice before “China Sunday,” one of the kids in our group informed us that in China if you stick up your pinky—something that we did about sixteen times in the song—it’s the same as sticking up your middle finger here. Whaaa? Is that for real? We asked a friend whose sister-in-law is Chinese to confirm and yes, it is an offensive gesture. Great! We scrambled to have the kids change the sign to point all of their fingers up to say “I” or “is.” Phew! International disaster avoided.
We had a fundraising event at my kids’ school that involved having one grade at a time go outside and walk/run laps around the parking lot. They asked me to wear a furry lion suit so that I could encourage the kids to continue running their laps with my furry hand-waving and kiss-blowing. That sounded easy enough. At the beginning of the day it was cool outside and the kindergarteners were adequately awestruck by my appearance. As the day went on, the suit revealed to me the similarly sweaty experience of its former occupants. In other words, I began to reek. To add insult to smelliness, the older the kids got the less respectful they were of the suit. It was as if an adult wearing a full body animal costume doesn’t mean anything anymore! They started trying to un-Velcro the back. They would slap me as they ran by just to see what I would do. I started fearing for my safety! I would pretend to growl at them when they were naughty but since they couldn’t hear me and my face was frozen in a non-threatening smile, it didn’t have the desired effect. Since all I could see was what was visible through two Ping-Pong ball sized eyeholes and some of the 4thgraders would be bigger than me, I gave up after lunch. Those older kids would have to dig deep within themselves to find the will to go on. I was out!
I wouldn’t be able to share those anecdotes if I had been concerned about little details like not knowing sign language or how I look (and smell) in public. Although there are plenty of other weightier things to worry about for parents in this day and age, I have to at least devote a small amount of effort to make sure my kids are funny. But truthfully, they were born with all of the funny this world can handle. My job is to keep laughing so their “funny” supply won’t dry up for lack of use. The good news is that one of the best ways to encourage their humor is the same fix-all they give us for almost everything else: Just sit down to the table for supper with them as often as possible. They’ll have you shooting milk out your nostrils in no time!