If my daughter had been born without some of her fingers or toes, I would have felt responsible for it. When I was pregnant with her twenty-three years ago, instead of praying – like some parents do – that she had all ten fingers and all ten toes, I prayed that she would have a great sense of humor.
My daughter didn’t have much of a sense of humor the first few months of her life. And I didn’t either. She had colic. During the early days with her I was so sleep deprived from taking care of my screaming baby who wouldn’t sleep, that I couldn’t even remember how to laugh. I think it was the first time in my life that I went three entire months without laughing. I did not understand the point of having children if a life without laughter was what I had been sentenced to.
Then suddenly, she stopped crying. The colic went away and the giggles appeared. My daughter’s personality began to emerge. I was happy to see that she was filled with something other than gas. Once the pain in her tummy subsided, her beautiful eyes were always smiling. At first I thought it was just because of her 25% Irish ancestry. But it became clear that she had an incredible sense of humor. I call it incredible because her sense of humor was just like mine! It is rare to find someone who understands what amuses me. I find it absolutely incredible when I find someone who is humored by life in the way that I am. I couldn’t believe that I was fortunate enough to give birth to my very own comedy show.
After her colic went away, it appeared that my daughter was actually trying to connect with me by getting me to laugh at her. She quickly picked up on the concept of being silly during diaper changes. Her dad would stand behind me and do a goofy dance where he would wiggle his body to get her attention so she wouldn’t squirm so much during changes. Soon after he started doing that, when I would put her on the bed to change her diaper she would get our attention, then wiggle her body like she had seen my husband do before. So my husband would wiggle. My daughter would giggle. The wiggles and giggles would continue until my husband and I were laughing and our daughter rumbled with a deep belly laugh. She thoroughly enjoyed having us be her audience. She succeeded in making diaper changing a fun activity when she was a baby and I quickly forgave her for all of the sleep I lost when we first met.
My daughter never really did sleep much. She apparently didn’t want to miss out on any of the entertainment that life provided. She refused to take naps but I usually didn’t mind because she was so much fun to be with. Housework never really got done when I was home with her because I was so busy watching her live performances. As she got older, she loved to mimic everything I did, while grinning at me, to try to get a reaction. Once she started talking, she revealed just how wonderful her sense of humor was. She seemed to make it a daily goal to say something that would make me choke with laughter. My daughter was fortunate to soon have a brother who was a year and a half younger than her. He quickly became the subject matter of many of her jokes. She was lucky that her brother was such a good sport and was willing to be her funny little sidekick. She was able to talk him into doing almost anything with her for a laugh. To surprise me, she would force him to swap outfits with her when I wasn’t looking. She would make him play Barbie dolls with her and have him be the voice of her Ken dolls, and pure comedy would ensue, usually at the Barbie Bake Shop. My daughter would put on elaborate comedy shows in our basement starring herself, her brother, and their silly stuffed bunny and kitty. For her amusement, and mine, she would torment her brother on road trips by playing pranks on him in the back seat while he was sleeping. For laughs, she would do things like placing a Wall Drug jackalope figurine, with antlers pointing up, on the arm rest, knowing that her brother’s head would eventually bob onto it. When he wasn’t the butt of her jokes, she made him participate in backseat comedy sketches that became the highlight of our trips.
It seemed like my daughter did all kinds of things for my benefit – just so she could give me a reason to laugh. She succeeded in making me laugh almost daily. As she got older, she would spontaneously break into dances, complete with special sound effects, that she would perform for me. There was one where she galloped, snapped and rhythmically blew raspberries on her arm that was my favorite. Even mundane chores became funny when my daughter was around. If I would ask her to help fold laundry I would often later find my underwear hanging from my bedroom ceiling fan. Because my daughter is an artist like I am, she has always understood that a picture can be worth a thousand funny words. She would post images on Facebook that were so hilarious I would literally laugh about them for days. With the amount of energy she devoted to her humorous activities, and the way she encouraged my laughter, my daughter made me feel like my unique sense of humor was perfectly normal.
Even though my funny girl is now an adult and is trying to act like a serious grown-up, I can still count on her to literally see the humor that I see in a situation. We were recently at the Norton Simon Art Museum together in Pasadena, California. I wandered off by myself into a small room with 14th century art work. It was only me and a security guard and some pretty boring Italian art and tapestries in the room. I walked over to a corner to inspect some sculptures. They were carved from marble and called Three Angel Musicians. The two angels on the ends were very graceful looking women playing timbrels (drums) and a zither (harp). The angel in the middle was playing a bagpipe. Her cheeks were puffed out like a blowfish. The proportions of her body were strange and she was absolutely hideous compared to the other two majestic angels. It struck me as so funny that someone would make the effort in the 14th century to take the time and resources to carve something out of marble and have it end up looking so completely dorky. I laughed. And laughed and laughed. The description said it was made by the Pisan School, so it’s impossible to know if one artist or several worked on the figures. Whoever made it, it appeared that they intended to have the two angels on the ends go together. And it seemed that the middle one was created to be a white elephant gift. But as several centuries passed, someone mistakenly grouped the three musicians together. I thought about how wonderful it would be to receive something like that at a white elephant party. I laughed so hard I snorted. I remembered that the guard was in the little room with me, so I turned around and looked at him with the hope that he would say he understood why I was laughing. He was totally straight-faced. I pointed at the middle bagpiping blowfish-faced angel and smiled broadly to communicate why I was laughing, in case it wasn’t obvious to him. He just stared at me as if I was completely insane and he didn’t say a word. I thought he must have been on loan from the Buckingham Palace Guard. I decided he was laughing on the inside and I turned around with the intention of appreciating the sculpture as a mature person, like the security guard, would. I couldn’t do it. I burst out laughing again and could not stop. Tears streamed down my face as I imagined someone peeking into the room and seeing the stern guard watching me laughing in the corner by myself. I was bent over from laughing so hard that I had to compose myself enough to stand up. I turned around, then started walking out of the room. I nodded at the guard and whispered, “Sorry.” And the non-responsive look on his face made me think maybe he was a 14th century sculpture instead of a real person. I thought about placing him on the pedestal, alongside the three marble musicians and I wondered what instrument he should play. I started laughing all over again.
I found my daughter in the museum and asked her to come with me to the 14th century room. I told her I just needed to see what she thought of an artwork in there. I had to find out just how crazy I was for reacting the way I did. My daughter walked up to the Three Angel Musicians. She looked at the one in the middle and burst out laughing. She laughed and laughed and laughed . . . and once again, made me feel perfectly normal for the way I am humored by life.
I wish everyone could have someone as fun as my daughter in their life.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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