I’ve written before about the difficulty of the last 30 minutes before the kids get into bed.
Other writers have likened the process to a game of whac-a-mole, where you put everyone to bed and then wait to see who’s going to open the door and poke their heads out so you know who to bop with your verbal mallet.
In our house, without fail, a re-emergence from the bedroom is met with coldness. We really, really like it when our kids go to sleep.
Tonight got ugly. We’re running about an hour behind our bedtime and apparently Lizard promised a dessert at lunchtime that was never delivered after nap. The injustice of this missed dessert could not be off-set by the large brownie they had just gotten for their dinner dessert and a promise that tomorrow’s breakfast would include the fan favorite, apple sauce.
I could go into more detail, but I won’t. By the time we got them into bed we had heard the full diatribe on the injustice of their world and both Lizard and I were out of sorts and frustrated.
So we prayed. Each night we have a routine that includes saying the Lord’s Prayer and then praying for our family and different requests. After we say our “Amens” we visit each girl individually for hugs, kisses, and jokes or stories.
The jokes are universally bad and usually don’t make sense at all. If Dos tells a story you can guarantee it’s going to be a long, drawn-out ramble.
When I got to Uno’s bed, here’s what I heard:
“Who’s there?” I asked.
“Tomorrow Hoodle Hoo.”
I paused, trying to make any sense of it, then, finding nothing, said, “Ok! Bed time! Have a good sleep!”
I started to move away from the bed when I heard her six-year-old voice quietly in the darkness. When I glanced back, I could see the shadow of her face in the glow of the nightlight.
“Mommy, I know it’s not very funny. I just try to make it up so it makes sense.” She sounded ashamed.
Her tone of voice and comment washed over me like a bucket of ice water.
For months we’ve been doing jokes at bed time and they never, ever make sense. Maybe four times they have been funny. I’ve never given them pointers on how to tell a good joke or even explained what makes a knock-knock joke funny.
I’ve assumed the girls don’t even know they’re terrible joke-tellers. I mean, there are so many things about kids that don’t make sense — like a desire to hook a bungee cord on their bicycle handlebars and pretend they’re riding a horse — yet they seem happy.
When I heard Uno admit to her bad joke telling, especially on top of the events leading up to tonight’s bedtime, something broke in my heart.
I don’t give my kids credit for understanding much. And yet, there are clear indications that they do understand. Much more than I prefer to admit.
When I’m exasperated and physically hurting, I can set a clock on Dos walking up to me and telling me she loves me very much. Every single time.
This morning I was trying to figure out what to wear, since I’m in the midst of the postpartum body morph. I stared at myself in the mirror, trying to figure out what on earth would keep me from looking like a sloppy vagrant.
Tres was watching me from the bed and, hardly intelligible, said, “You’re beautiful.” I didn’t understand her – in fact, I asked her to repeat herself two times before I figured out her vocabulary had expanded to include the word “beautiful.” But when I finally got it… I cried. My two-year-old ministered to my insecure heart.
And Uno. That child. That child who is our firstborn, lovely, intelligent, fretful, empathetic child, she says things sometimes from out of the blue that make me think she’s a philosopher. She gets humans.
These kids, they understand. They feel. They’re vulnerable and they’re seeking love.
Just like me. And you.
I looked at Uno and asked, “Would you like me to learn some jokes and teach them to you so you can be funny?”
“Yes,” she said. “I would like that a lot.” I kissed her on her freckled nose and walked out of the room, feeling like an unfit mother because I simply haven’t been paying attention.
Is my disregard justified by the arrival of a new baby? Perhaps. But it really doesn’t matter — I haven’t been doing one of my most important parenting jobs. Noticing. Listening.
It took a 2×4 in the form of a really poor knock-knock joke to wake me up.
I walked quickly to my computer to remind myself of the lesson I learned tonight. It’s a paraphrase of James 1:19: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
So now I’m in the market for some good, age-appropriate jokes to teach my budding stand-up comics. Can you help? Leave the your joke in the comments!