A few weeks ago – during my last awful round of solo parenting – I came to an important realization.
I was sitting on the floor of our bathroom, simultaneously trying to nurse a screaming baby and cajole a wriggly toddler into using the potty, when I realized why the week had been such a terrible one.
Partly it was because my partner was climbing the Great Wall thousands of miles away. (No, I’m not still bitter about that one! What on earth would make you think that?!) Partly it was because I got knocked to my feet by 24 hours of a lousy stomach bug.
But mostly it was because I had utterly and completely lost my sense of humor.
Most days I get a kick out of laughing at my kids, my husband, my self. I’ve always taken to heart the wise words of a modern-day prophet who declared that if we didn’t laugh, we would all go insane. Self-deprecating humor is one of my hallmarks, but I couldn’t get by without laughing at others as well: the comics, The Daily Show, The Onion.
I remember my homiletics professor teaching us about using humor in sermons. While it must be done appropriately, jokes and funny stories provide a great way to connect to a group. Humor breaks down walls and it builds up camaraderie. He told us that the root of the word “humor” is the same as the root for the words “humus” (the earth) and “human.” Laughter makes us who we are, and being able to laugh with each other is a deeply human connection.
Sitting there, on the floor of my (uncleaned for weeks) bathroom, with my (unbathed for days) children, I met the eyes of my toddler over the ear-piercing screams of the newborn and I just started to laugh.
I laughed so hard that the toddler stopped squirming. The baby even stopped crying.
I laughed so hard that tears started to stream down my face. And the toddler started grinning at me. “Mama is funny?” he questioned. “Mama is LAUGHIN’!”
“Oh, kiddo,” I replied, in between gasps for air. “We have not laughed at all this week. That is our problem.”
“Dat is our problem, dat is our problem!” he sang as he bolted off the potty chair and raced to his room in a nude streak. I looked down at the baby whose saucer-wide eyes seemed to ask, once again, if this was seriously the family he ended up in?
“Baby,” I told him. “You have no idea.”
Of all the tools in my mothering toolbox, I am now convinced that a sense of humor is the most important. It supersedes even patience (thankfully, since I don’t have much). The ability to laugh as a parent is the only thing that gets me through the ridiculous situations in which I find yourself. Many days it is the only shred of sanity left when the head hits the pillow.
My dear monk of a professor was on to something important in that homiletics class years ago. We need humor to connect with each other. Which makes me think that humor is of our Creator as well. If we’re made in the image and likeness of God, then God must laugh as well. (I’d like to think it might look something like this, but then again, that’s just my twisted sense of humor.)
The times when I lose my ability to laugh at myself – my work, my days, my mothering – are the times when life feels bleak and unbearable. Everything drags and my spirit limps along behind. But when I realize what’s missing, it’s like the puzzle pieces immediately rearrange around me – I can see a way out of my funk, and that way is paved with bursts of belly laughs.
Wry wit, sharp sarcasm, pathetic puns – these are all balm to my mothering spirit. Especially when my patience gets tried and my attention wears thin. And I don’t know about your house, but those are near-daily occurrences in mine.
Or if none of those work, try my fail-proof recipe for laughter: at the end of the day, cast your eyes around your disaster of a kitchen – or living room, or bathroom – and try to explain to your 21 year-old self what has happened to the exciting, exotic life you expected.
Then go scrub the oatmeal off the window.