From the way I talk about my kids here and in social media, you might think that they’re just brilliant evil madmen, whimsical annihilists, crazed Muppets on acid, determined to drive their father and me to eat, drink, and be weepy. And you wouldn’t be completely wrong.
But there’s a really important facet to them, as well, one that helps explain their continued good health:
They’re comic geniuses.
I don’t just mean that they’re funny in that old Art Linkletter/Bill Cosby “Gosh, the things kids say!” way. All kids say unintentionally hilarious things–adorable spoonerisms, mispronunciations, hilarious revelations of their skewed perspective on the world. And sure, my kids do those too–Griffin perseveres in calling his penis his “peepod,” and his pronunciation of “Dang it” as “DANIK!” But it’s more than that. In my old age, I expect to be living very comfortably on the fruits of their mega-successful comedy careers.
They’ve always been like this, too. My chief crime as a Bad Mother is that I haven’t kept a journal of all the hilarity–if it weren’t for Facebook and Twitter, even more of those moments would’ve been lost forever. When I was little and unbearably precocious, my grandma kept a stack of index cards next to her typewriter, and whenever I would say something wise or funny, she would write it down and stick it into a little binder, which she gave to me when I graduated from high school. It was such a precious, thoughtful gift, one I knew I just wasn’t the kind of person to replicate. And my memory–Swiss cheese, mesh sieve, fishnet stockings, or whatever uselessly porous metaphor you can imagine–retains only the oddest assortment of these things.
But I’m determined to convince you that these are more-than-averagely witty children. So here are a collection of my favorites.
Connor’s first celebrity crush was Jon Stewart. Yes, that Jon Stewart. We’ve had TiVo since just after he was born, and he would sit in our laps as we watched saved episodes of The Daily Show when Cam was home for lunch. Connor learned comic timing from those folks–he laughed at jokes from the rhythm, long before the words made sense to him. We hung pictures of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on the bathroom wall to celebrate successful poops in the potty at least as often as we hung Lightning McQueen and Luke Skywalker. He had a little clip-on tie in his costume basket which he would affix to the collar of his t-shirts before standing tiptoe on the bathroom stool so he could stand before the mirror and rattle off little monologues in his weird moon language: “Bwuhblahbapah, hrmhuhbeda ah rmuu gagapurba… AHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Confused, we asked him, “What exactly are you doing?” He replied, all seriousness, “I Jon Stewart.” Legend has it that, at least for a while, an invitation to Connor’s Jon Stewart-themed 3rd Birthday Party hung on Stewart’s office wall.
Griffin was born when Connor was four, and while Connor was intrigued by the strange alien parasite who’d arrived in our lives, he felt it was unfair that the rules were different for the wee beastie than they were for him. This was especially fraught at bedtime, one of which Connor had, but Griffin, as a three-month-old, avoided by sleeping any damn time he felt like it. One evening, Connor exercised his growing rhetorical skills with three award-winning attempts to get around this obstacle. From the top of the stairs, we first heard, “I think there’s someone at the door. I think it’s for me. I’d better stay downstairs in case they come back.” No. Go back to bed. Five minutes later, “It’s not healthy for me to be upstairs alone.” Ooo, nice try, kid. No. Go back to bed. Finally, the real kicker: “I think you want me upstairs because you love Griffin more than me.” Emotional manipulation–nicely played, young padawan. No. Go back to bed.
Griffin’s sense of humor grew differently than Connor’s, with a definite pitch toward the absurd. He’s my angelically adorable, punk-rock, little imp of the devil. His favorite band is Green Day. He loves atomic Japanese monsters. Griff’s talent lies in the one-liner; my talent is for failing to remember them. A recent one that stuck: “Dad, the bathroom is full of zebra smell.” He’s almost shameless in his misbehavior, which yields a humor of its own–you know, the kind that also makes you reach for the Xanax. When asked if he behaved well at school, he responded with a gleeful grin, and said, “Ms. Brown said she was going to give me a color change because I was bad in the library, but by the time we got back to the classroom, she forgot, so I was good!”
Together, the two of them are overwhelming, both comically and sometimes literally. When people don’t seem to understand what raising two young sons is like, I tell them the story of the day they both had funny things to tell me at the same time. They stood directly in front of me, gesticulating wildly with their hands, as Connor said in a campy Bela Lugosi voice, “I’m an alien! I have no head! My butt is where my head should be! I have a butt for a head!” while Griffin just yelled repeatedly, over his brother’s monologue, “WAFFLES! WAFFLES! WAFFLES! WAFFLES!”
And even on the bad days, their comic genius can pull a laugh from me. Cam and I were discussing an earlier Twitter conversation about my hatred of smoothies for their frequent inclusion of unannounced secret bananas. Connor, who’d come off the school bus crying at another bad day of school, piped up, “Secret banana? Did you just say *secret banana*?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well, guess what? SECRET BANANA!!!” he yelled, and whipped a small notepad with a cover featuring a cartoon banana out of his jacket pocket.
How could I not laugh? I mean, honestly, what were the odds? The odds he’d have that notebook in his pocket? The odds he’d remember it was there, in all his emotional turmoil? And of course, perfect timing.
I’m not the best mom in the world, not by a long shot. I’m mercurial–little things set me off too easily, spinning toward sadness or anger–and my patience escapes me with my own kids in a way it doesn’t with anyone else. I’m bossy and authoritarian, and I try to make everything a teachable moment. And I can’t be active with them all the time, the way I’d like, the way my mom and grandma were with me–the pain and the fatigue set arbitrary limits and scuttle the best-laid plans, and I hate that they know from how I’m holding my body to ask whether I should maybe take some medicine.
But I am, and always will be, their best audience.