On a rainy Wednesday, one of my best friends convinced me to go to a Mommy & Me group. In the same way that strep throat bacteria cowers at the mention of Amoxicillin, I usually avoid gatherings like these. Though the assemblages have been established to encourage, uphold and inspire, I somehow manage to leave them feeling inept, inadequate, even forlorn. This time proved to be no different.
From perches in a circle of maternal mastermindedness, a dozen or so meticulous mamas shared reams of goals they had for their kids: a spot at the best local private school, acquisition of a foreign language, Emily Post-approved etiquette. A blonde-beauty, dressed in a pale pink sweater set, (who happened to have a figure I would’ve envied even pre-pregnancy) shared a goal that left a particularly indelible mark in my memory. She sat up straight as a broom in her chair, and in a voice reminiscent of a news anchor, perfectly articulated, "I hope to espouse nobility, honor, justice, kindness and mercy in the hearts of my three boys."
I laughed to myself, thinking I’m lucky if I can keep my little guys from giving each other black eyes before breakfast.
As Anchor-Mommy galloped to the end of her goal, I started to freak out that my time to share was rapidly approaching. Sweat pearled at my brow. I began picking at the cheese danish that sat on a paper plate in the middle of my lap. What should I say? What should I say? What should I say? My mental mantra was relentless. Pressure and personal hysteria mounted when my friend introduced me as the author of a recently released book for young moms.
Great, I thought. Think of something fast. Twelve pairs of eyes turned in my direction. I took a breath and opened my mouth. "I ... um ... I ... errrrrrrr ... One goal I have for my kids is that they’d laugh at least one time before their heads hit the pillow each night." I blurted out my truest parenting philosophy as if it were a watermelon seed in July.
I felt stupid and, without realizing it, held my breath. Though my friend later disagreed, I swear that a few women knit their brows at my measly contribution. I was finally able to inhale when Mommy-Hostess smiled, gave me an obligatory nod and non-verbally indicated that it was time for the next, wiser mother to share.
When I got home that afternoon, I sat in my favorite overstuffed chair, twirled a chunk of my hair and thought about the meeting. Maybe moms’ groups aren’t all that bad. And, maybe I’m not as different from the other moms as I thought. Deep down, we all want our kids to do as well as they can in school, be generous, honorable, gracious, kind. And, in the thick of it, each of our families needs a little laughter along the way. Consider these ideas:
Keep a list of the absurd things you say during a typical day of parenting (things that, in any other career, might get you fired):
Keep your hands off your brother’s ______.
Please, don’t wipe your boogers on the ______.
If you ______ one more time, I’m going to ______!
2 Keep a list of the absurd things your kids say during a typical day. Yesterday my daughter asked WHO-body was coming over for dinner. Immediately, I ran to the notebook I keep by our phone and jotted down WHO-BODY?! One of my friends, Heather, has a son named Max. She has collected his quotables in a journal cleverly titled, Maxims.
Any comment is fair game. And it’s really fun reading the entries aloud as you gather round the dinner table, take a car ride or even on a day when your kid is home sick from school.
Experiment with different modes of transportation to get to the bus stop: skip, run, take scooters, bikes, roller blades or pogo sticks. (My kids always laugh when I ride one of their scooters or mini-bikes. Knees hit my ears, my bootie hits the cement, coffee spills.) Even I end up grinning—usually.
It’s easy to cry or get angry over spilled milk. But, the next time one of your kids dumps the calcium-rich contents out of their cup (again) pretend the spill is a cloud (or better yet, a Rorschach). With their help, try to discover what shape the mess has made on your recently mopped kitchen floor. You’ll be surprised at how this small exercise brings joy to your family and prepares you to laugh when other, more difficult, accidents occur.
I hate to admit it, but after 10 years of sleeping on the same (rather expensive) pillows, my husband and I finally got new ones. While we were at it, we replaced all the pillows in the house. Before we put them in cases and tucked them nicely onto the beds, we lined them up in the biggest room in our house. Then, we had our entire unsuspecting crew enter the Down Wonderland, grab a sack and let loose in a huge merciless PILLOW FIGHT.
Silly family games go a long way in creating laughter. No matter how old you (or your kids) are, engage in game play. Have a tickle fest, a pillow fight, a game of chase. Play Ring around the Rosey, Duck-Duck-Goose, Pin the Tail on the Donkey or Powder Puff Football in the nearest field. As you play, don’t be afraid to unleash the child within yourself.
Check out a book of knock-knock jokes from the library. After reading a few, make up some jokes of your own. Have the kids make up some knock-knocks, too. Our favorite, created by our 2-year-old Emily, is: Knock-Knock. Who’s there? Why did the chicken cross the road?
Yes. That’s it. The joke doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t even have a punch line. Still, when Emily tells it, we can’t help but hoot.
Serve a meatloaf and mashed potato mock-meal for after-school snacks. Make meatloaf (rice crispy treats using cocoa-flavored cereal) in a loaf pan. Slice thin, like a meatloaf. Then, place a piece next to a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream (mashed potatoes) doused with a generous ladle of butterscotch sauce (gravy).
When your kids have ignored you for the fifth time, don’t get mad. Instead of yelling at the little waxy-eared ones, break into your most dramatic operatic coloratura, soprano, baritone or bass voice. Singing changes the tone of the day and actually oxygenates your brain. Besides, when the kids hear your new tune they might actually do what you’ve asked. And your frowns are bound to get turned upside down.
Have a backward day. Wear your clothes backward, start the day with dinner and end with pancakes. Read your bedtime story when you awake. Walk backwards, try to talk or write notes backwards. Let the new perspective launch you into rethgual.
10 Do a lip sync to old ’70s or ’80s tunes. Teach your kids some disco moves, get out an old Bee Gee’s record and dance, dance, dance. The memories alone are bound to make you grin.
When all else fails, just do it! Smile and don’t be surprised when your kids smile, too.
Sally Miller, co-author of Play with Me: Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey with Kids, is a sought-after speaker for mom’s groups and women’s retreats. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.