It’s a serious problem

April Fools


Dave Jaffe

The reward for parents who are patient with their children’s pranks on April Fools’ Day is the look of innocent joy in their eye as they skip off to school with a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew, 20 feet of dental floss and a funnel.

YOUNG TIMOTHY: April Fools, Dad! Did I fool ya’? Did I?

PATIENT DAD: Good one, Son! I honestly expected cream in the pitcher instead of … what is that, salad dressing?

YOUNG TIMOTHY: No, motor oil! I ran out of salad dressing after I filled Mom’s shampoo bottle.

PATIENT DAD: Good one, Son, though I expect your breakfast will be late this morning.

YOUNG TIMOTHY: That’s OK. I made oatmeal.

PATIENT DAD: Sounds tasty! Uh, where is it?

YOUNG TIMOTHY: In Mom’s slippers. And her purse. Well, purses.

PATIENT DAD: Best of luck to you, Son. I’m out of here.

YOUNG TIMOTHY: If you need your steering wheel, it’s Super Glued to the furnace.

PATIENT DAD: Good one, son!

To fully understand the mirth and playfulness of April Fools’ Day it is necessary to explore the uncertain origins of this holiday, which are as steeped in mystery as Presidents’ Day. While historical anthropologists put forth differing theories, they all agree that at some point in the past there came a need for a single, unifying holiday that celebrated the noises of bodily functions.

Once these anthropologists stop giggling and slapping each other on the back, they explain that April Fools’ Day probably saw its beginning in the adoption of the Gregorian calendar during the 16th century.

Among ancient cultures New Year’s Day was celebrated at different times, all following closely on the vernal equinox (from Greek, meaning "Vern’s eating ’nother ox!"). Cultures as varied as the Romans and Hindus celebrated New Year’s on April 1, while throughout much of medieval Europe, March 25 marked the beginning of the new year. This explains why in earlier ages so little got done on time.

ROMAN SUPERVISOR: Smithers! Where’s that report?

ROMAN LEGIONNAIRE: Sir, you said you wouldn’t need it before Vern finished eating his ox.

ROMAN SUPERVISOR: Don’t quibble with me, Smithers. I expect that report on my desk by MLXVII o’clock, and not a New Year’s later!

In the hope of avoiding such confusion, in France in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII O’clock ordered the old Julian calendar, invented by Julius Caesar, be replaced because it wasn’t named after Pope Gregory XIII O’clock.

Thus, New Year’s Day was moved from March 20 through April 1 to Jan. 1. Meanwhile, winter was moved to mid-July, Arbor Day, Flag Day and Mother’s Day were bunched up on the first Tuesday in November, and don’t even get me started about Hanukkah.

This, of course, left the confused masses even confuseder, and many continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1. In France those who did were mocked and victimized by practical jokes, many of which involved beheading. From this sprang the April Fools’ Day we celebrate today. How, then, should modern parents prepare their young children to properly celebrate April Fools’ Day with a minimum of beheading? We must first ask ourselves two important questions:

1.) What is an appropriate prank, and

2.) What is that foul smell?

Let us address the first and ignore—as best we can—the second. Children should keep in mind the following rules when planning an April Fools’ Day prank.

 Another word for reality TV pranks is felony.

 A toilet cannot be modified in any way that a victim will find funny.

 Dogs are patient with pranks in much the way they are patient with scurrying chipmunks or falling cheese.

Finally, it is a parent’s responsibility to hold an honest dialogue with their child to make clear the boundaries of appropriate pranking.

"Brittany, come give Daddy the ice pick and talk with me and Mommy about a good prank. How about we call the local tobacconist and ask if he has Prince Albert in the can? Then when he says—"

"Daddy, what’s a ‘tobacconist’?"

"—he says, ‘Yes sir, we have Prince Albert—’ "

"What your daddy means, Sweetie, is don’t do pranks that hurt or embarrass anyone. Do a prank you would think was funny if someone did it to you."

" ‘—in the can.’ See, then you say—"

"OK, Mommy. I like that!"

" ‘—well, you’d better let him out!’ See, ’cause he’s in ‘the can.’ "

"Dave, we’re done here. You were a big help. I’ll see you later."

"Daddy, where’s Mommy going?"

"Shopping, Honey. And while she’s gone, let me show you something fun we can do with Saran Wrap and the toilet seat."

Dave Jaffe and his wife, the parents of two boys, live in Deerfield. He is a not-frequent-enough contributor to Chicago Parent.

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