When I was five, my sister Sarah could undo me by saying the word "poop." There was no need for her to set up the joke or give me any context; I understood everything I needed to know with that one syllable. My stomach would hurt as I fell on the floor, laughing from a place deep in my soul that no other joke could touch. Just as the giggles would subside and I wiped the tears from my eyes, my sister would repeat the "joke, " and I'd start from the beginning.
I no longer think the fart/poop jokes are funny. I feel like I may have lost a part of myself the day I stopped laughing at them. Things have gotten so much more complicated now that I expect a joke to have impeccable timing, social relevance, and a solid premise for me to belly laugh.
For kids and some adults, fart and poop jokes are eternally hilarious. A well-timed fart can make or break a comedy. There are some limits to this kind of humor, however. One can't just pass gas on camera and expect that to do the work for them. I've seen many kid's TV shows and Movies miss the mark on this point despite it being such a comedic softball.
Last night Darla and Jude watched a movie called Captain Underpants in which there was an actual fart orchestra. I looked at them, expecting to see two kids on the verge of uncontrollable laughter. Instead, I saw them sitting slack-jawed and vacant. The joke barely registered for them. They saw it as another plot point when it was a non-sequitur. It had no bearing on the previous or following action, so I wonder whether they thought the fartchestra was of any value.
My kids are huge fans of bathroom humor, so the lack of laughter was as bad of a review as A.O. Scott gave The Mummy. I suspect I could do better than Captain Underpants did if I said "fart" as I poured Jude and Darla's milk at dinner. They'd dub me a hero and try to carry me on their tiny shoulders. Every time I think about this, however, I reject the idea. Once I say it, they're going to make me say fart all day every day for the rest of their lives. I like to keep their expectations of me in the gutter.
I know they'll do this because I see this happen over and over again to Greg. He "gets down" with preschoolers and kindergarteners. He'll say the jokes that they want to hear. He'll ruthlessly tease them when they fart or make farting noises when they sit down. It, also, means they demand he make those jokes regularly and, at some point, it just stops being funny (for me. It's never not funny for the kids).
Sometimes, my jealousy of his comedic status in our family clouds my vision, and I try to join in.
"Who farted?" I ask mirthfully.
"Mommy," Darla says as she starts to cry, "You're making me embarrassed."
For some reason, my tone comes across as critical, and I have to spend the rest of the night talking about how it's okay to fart. I know this is a pointless lecture since Darla has a very healthy relationship with her flatulence. For Darla, having a zany mom might not feel right and maybe that's why she cries. Having a mom who gives boring lectures is a much more comfortable thing for her.
Knowing full well that I shouldn't tread on Greg's "fart" territory, I try other ways to get them to laugh. I've tried to be sarcastic with them, but, since kids are as literal as Amelia Bedelia, they think I'm just having a direct interaction with them.
"Oh Jude," I say to him. "I love how you've thrown your toys all around the room. I'm so happy you pulled out every single lego and put them on the floor so I could step on them. Please do that more often."
Next thing I know, Jude's refusing to pick up his toys because he thinks the mess makes me happy. He thinks I really do enjoy picking up all his toys because the words that came out of my mouth said so. He doesn't know how to read inflections or tone. To be fair, my jokes are more a veiled criticism than anything else, so the onus is on me for not being more direct of a communicator.
Lost without sarcasm and lacking the comedic timing for bathroom humor, I make weak grasps at getting my kids to laugh. Jude seems to be slightly amused when I pretend I don't know who he is. Even that amusement morphs into bemusement the longer I ask him and I think he really believes that I forgot who he was, which might be a little scary for a three-year-old to process.
I've concluded that I'm not the funny one in my family. When I scan my days to see what I did to make my kids laugh, I find, more often than not, it's because I did something like accidentally put their laundry in the wrong drawers. They laugh and roll their eyes at their bumbling mom.
I have no illusions about where I stand in my family. I'm the straight woman; the person who's the starting off point for all other jokes. It's a position I have grown to love. I don't have to do cartwheels and full comedy sets because my kids don't expect that from me. Instead, I'm in the position to be entertained. And I'm the one who gets to laugh hard at the jokes made at my expense. So, when Darla sees this yak (picture above) and thinks it looks like me, I can laugh from a place deep in my soul that no other joke could touch. And, at the right angle, I tend to agree. I do kind of look like that yak.