Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Not Funny (for us)

Sometimes stuff is funny because it is true. Like today the faculty voted on a resolution to send to the board of trustees. The original draft had "fully" twice in one sentence, as in "The faculty fully understands that the board fully has the authority to ..." So the faculty president deleted the first "fully" and asked if we wanted to replace it with something. One of my colleagues yelled out "How about 'grudgingly'?"

And that's funny, cause it's true. We really would love to have the authority to make this decision. Failing that we would really like our representative to be able to vote instead of reading a resolution stating that the faculty are agreed on this issue. (It passed by an enormous margin. Three faculty abstained.)

Sometimes things are funny because they are so outrageous and false. Brian when he was three told "non-jokes" on this premise. He would say something like, "A watermelon and a horse on top of a roof!" And then he would laugh, cause you know, you would never see a watermelon and a horse on top of a roof. One or the other maybe, but not both.

When the boys were little and getting on my nerves I would sometimes say something like, "If you don't stop that I will...hang you by your toes and tickle you until you throw up!" I tried to come up with different ridiculous things each time so that they would laugh at the image and understand that I was getting tired. As they got older that was just one of the things I said sometimes. It was like a family joke.

And the only reason that it was funny, if it was at all, was that it was so outrageous.

I stopped making those sorts of jokes when Carl moved in. I could see the anxiety flick across his face while he briefly debated whether I might do something that insane. It wasn't funny to him AT ALL. Perhaps it had never been funny, maybe it had just been stress relieving for me, but whatever funniness it once had was gone.

A couple of weeks ago we had company. The husband teaches at the boys' school (which was weird for them) and the wife teaches at my husband's. Their son is about 12 and an only child. Now that is relevant because there is something adultish about him. He has grown up with two teachers who tend to include him in their conversations, and he participates like he's one of them. It's more difficult to make that happen when you have multiple children and they form their own relationships. Anyway, at some point the mom smiled at her kid and said affectionately, "Yeah, I guess we won't sell you to the gypsies after all."

She looked up smiling and then a bit confused because we weren't smiling at all. So she said, explaining and smiling, "I used to tease him that I would sell him to the gypsies."

I put my hand on Gary's arm and said, "I heard." Roland quickly changed the subject.

The thing is, I understand why it was silliness to her and her son. Lots of parents make such jokes. Probably it produces more anxiety in kids than we are willing to acknowledge, but from the adult's perspective it is funny because it is so clearly false.

But see, I was sitting next to an abandoned child, a child who had done something bad and had not been sold but just summarily handed over to the police, a child who had done everything that had been asked of him and still wasn't allowed to call his house to talk to his father, a child whose three youngest siblings don't know he ever existed. And my other boys too, all of them in one way or another abandoned by their parents, one literally, dropped off at school and never picked up.

Yeah. Jokes about getting rid of kids because they are naughty...not so funny anymore.


  1. That is a sad world, where the jokes we tell, the ones that MUST be patently false, are true. Like a nightmare. Sigh....

  2. When I was a kid and acting up or had somehow gotten filthy, my Mom would get overly dramatic and call me the "poor orphan boy" that she had to get to.. clean up, redirected, etc.. It was funny because I knew that I wasn't an orphan and I'd look at how I was and laugh with her.

    I catch myself now going to say it to Little Man and realizing it won't be funny to him.

  3. My sister used to joke with her kids that she would "ship them off to Siberia." When I put my Vladimir on a plane to -- where else? -- Siberia, that old joke rang through my ears.

    When Slugger first moved in he was very sensitive to any form of teasing or joke. He took everything literally. Now he gets my sense of humor and just recently I've noticed that he's starting to catch on to my dad's sense of humor.

  4. We've had to watch this as well. My middle guy came to us at 5 with a history of trauma and all manner of issues surrounding proper care, abandonment, loss of birth family the whole spiel. I can't even remember the comment now, I think my wife had had a bad day and said that she wasn't cooking supper that night. Rob had been with us for 2 yrs at least all ready and TRUST ME the child eats and eats well. LOL The look of absolute terror on his face almost made me weep. I explained that she just needed a night off and either I would cook or we would order pizza but we would still eat.


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