What Are You Laughing At?

 

What am I laughing at? Nothing right now, thank you for asking. The fact is, I have abused my sense of humour so badly that I think it’s broken. I have pretend-laughed at too many mangled punchlines, fake-chuckled at knock-knock jokes that make absolutely no sense, and grimace-smiled at countless pranks that began with the words, “Mo-om, you have to come and see-ee this.”

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy my children’s jokes. I do. Unless it’s the one where they put the squishy toy frog in my snow boot; I don’t enjoy that one at all. I love the rest of their jokes, though: I enjoy watching them enjoy the joke, and their laughter makes me laugh. But to be honest, I don’t think their jokes are actually – you know – funny. They’re not funny the first time, and they don’t get any funnier with the next thirty tellings. So why do I laugh, chuckle or smile every single time?

Because I’m a parent, and perfidy is second nature to us. No? Think back to all those times you played “Where’s the baby?” and delighted in your child’s squeals when you peeked out from behind your hands. Were you ever, at any point, at all unclear about where the baby was? No, you weren’t. It’s not like the baby was about to get up and leg it out of the room. But you acted surprised to see them every time, just for the LOLs.

So, there you go. It’s what we do, as parents. We pretend a lot, from very early on in our parenting journey. To wit: the pureed pumpkin that I tasted and enthused about all those years ago was not really that good. What I meant by “Yum yum!” was actually, “I’m so glad I have teeth and a developed digestive system and don’t need to eat this mush.”

I have also pretended to be blown away by the children’s art. A while ago, I enthused so wildly over a clay sculpture of something resembling a giant cat’s hairball that the child who made it promptly went and made me another four. Tragically, the replicas broke, but the original is on the display shelf to this day.

I even applauded loudly when my younger child went up on stage and played the most horrible version of “Jingle Bells” that I’ve ever heard in my life, on the piano. Despite the fact that it sounded like one of John Cage’s more experimental pieces, and took about ten excruciating minutes to get through because she kept losing her place, the child was extremely pleased with herself.

“You see,” she admonished when she sat down next to me again, “I was right. I didn’t actually need to practise.”

Am I doing the right thing with all of this? I don’t know. The world could use more children who eat vegetables and have a healthy self-esteem, but it could also use fewer bad piano players. I suppose history will be my judge.

For now, I’ll just keep faking away.

“Knock-knock,” a child will say to me, someday soon.

Suppressing a scream, I’ll ask, “Who’s there?”

“I see you!” she’ll answer, and burst into peals of laughter.

And I’ll pretend to chuckle because … that’s just the way I live, right now.

By Robyn Goss

Robyn is a part-time writer and full-time slave to her two young daughters. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, she now lives in a little cow-rich village in Switzerland.

She spends her free time making To Do lists of things she’ll probably never get around to doing (have the car cleaned; vacuum under the bed; run a half-marathon) and putting the finishing touches to her third novel. To read more of Robyn’s writing, click here and here.

Illustration by Laura Munteanu

Laura studied journalism and advertising, and has worked as a journalist and an illustrator. She has illustrated for magazines, websites, charity, and diverse campaigns. She lives in Zurich with her husband and eight-year-old daughter.

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