I like to tell people that I’m not huge on New Year’s resolutions, but the truth is, I pretty much make them every year. Sometimes they happen by accident, like the day I randomly decided to quit smoking cigarettes cold turkey on January 1st. This year is no exception. Last week, my 2017 New Year’s resolution came into my mind’s view, so I whipped out my Bullet Journal to write it down:
“2017 Resolution: LAUGH LESS.”
You might be thinking, huh? Isn’t the goal to laugh more? Why would she want to laugh less? Allow me to elaborate.
This year, I’m going to laugh less at the expense of my children, my BuJo should have read.
When I was seven years old, I experienced my first crush. His name was Jason something-or-other. (He was replaced by a Matt in third grade and then a Brian for the remainder of my elementary school days, who I may or may not still Google from time to time just to, you know, see what he’s up to. What?)
Anyway, I don’t remember Jason’s last name, but one incident does stand out from that period. Back in second grade, I wasn’t exactly an expert in the playing-hard-to-get game. I thought that immediately telling the object of my affection how I felt about him was the way to go. (My husband will tell you not much has changed.) Even then, I expressed myself best through writing. My note was short and sweet: “Jason, I love you. From, Maria.” No beating around the bush here!
Unfortunately, like in many a Shakespearean play, my love letter ended up in the wrong hands. In this case, my mother was the lucky recipient. Naturally, she couldn’t help but be amused.
“Don’t laugh!” I remember scolding.
Now, look — I’m not saying that more than three decades later I’m still dwelling on this. I’m not saying I had to work through this in therapy. Mom, if you’re reading this, relax. I’m OK. It’s all good. Obviously, I get it.
As parents, we can’t help but laugh at our children. Kids are funny. We’re not being malicious when we laugh; we’re just delighting in the joy they bring us.
Just the other day, Violet said something at the dinner table — which I won’t share here because that would be breaking my resolution — and I laughed. I laughed big and loud. She scrunched her eyebrows together and demanded, “Don’t laugh. I’m not telling a joke!”
I was a little surprised. “Oh, hon, I’m not laughing at you! I’m laughing with you,” I explained.
“But it’s not funny,” she insisted.
That’s when it hit me. Four-year-olds don’t really get the concept of laughing “at you” versus “with you.” All Violet heard was laughter after she shared what she thought was a very insightful observation.
Actually, her remark was insightful. She voiced a smart, witty, and original comment. I didn’t laugh because I thought it was silly or funny; I laughed because her perception and imagination bring me great happiness. But, as usual, I seem to be learning more from my offspring than they do from me. For kids, funny means silly. Funny means jokes. And, really, she’s right. She wasn’t making a joke and my laughter wasn’t entirely appropriate.
If an adult shared a theory that they were excited about with me and I responded with a fit of giggles, that would be pretty rude, so why would I laugh out loud at clever things my preschooler says?
The whole situation brought me back to Jason and the note. My mom did a good job making up for her initial amusement, but a few days later, the “incident” happened. I was playing in my room while my mom hosted a gathering of her friends. I heard my name mentioned as Mom dropped her voice to a hushed tone. I tiptoed into the kitchen where I could eavesdrop on the group in the dining room and my heart sank: She was telling them about the note. She was telling everyone there about the note I wrote to Jason, about my declaration of passion to the first boy I ever liked. Let me tell you, there is nothing more deafening than the sound of a gaggle of women all bursting into laughter at the same time after someone loud-whispers gossip to them.
Did this betrayal damage me in the long run? Not even a little bit. Looking back, I can laugh about it, too. But that doesn’t change the way I felt that day standing in that kitchen — cheeks blazing red, eyes stinging from tears, my bottom lip trembling. I don’t want my girls to ever feel that way. (Again, Mom, we’re cool.)
Will I continue to chuckle about the cute things my daughters say and do? Of course. How else can we survive parenthood without laughter? But, this year, I strive to save the laughs for me and my husband after the kids are long asleep. I won’t laugh in their faces, whether it’s at them or with them because they can’t grasp the difference. I won’t tell my friends things that I know are meant to be kept private between me and my daughters because their trust is a wonderful privilege.