Do you ever have those moments when you look at your family and are all, Who AREyou people? Throughout our marriage, there have been occasional times when my husband will do something so outlandish that I have to perform a quick time-lapsed review of everything I know about him thus far and decide if the person staring back at me is the same person I married instead of some Polo shirt-clad impostor. Such crises in marriage often occur when your spouse does not speak favorably about Chili’s happy hour.
I think it only gets worse when you have children. Your spouse is a virtual wild card with no genetic ties to you (one hopes, but shout out to all the British royalty and Appalachian inbreeds who read my blog), so you can’t really be surprised when they reveal a strange part of their personality to you. But your kids are different. Parents are always quick to point it out when their children emulate them in some way.
Look at Johnny! He’s got a temper just like his mama!
There’s no mistaking who Mary’s daddy is! She is a pint-sized version of my husband!
But when their kids exhibit some kind of behavior that they can’t trace back to genetics, parents break out into a cold sweat. The moment your child stands on a table at Chuck E. Cheese and pulls his pants down just for funsees, you don’t care how much he looks like you. That kid can’t possibly be yours. It’s not that you’re embarrassed. I mean, you’re at Chuck E. Cheese on a Saturday night for cripe’s sake, so your standards have been deteriorating for awhile now—but you’re so discombobulated by your child’s behavior because you have no reference point for it. What genetic marker makes a kid want to eat chalk? She certainly didn’t get it from me.
Unless she did.
Lately, C has been doing this thing where when she’s having a hard time processing sad or unhappy emotions, she just laughs at whatever is distressing her. She’ll be watching TV and if she sees something that disturbs her, she’ll come over to me, point to the TV and say “funny!” very nervously. One time we were out and when she saw another kid bawling about something, she retreated to my husband and told him that the kid who was crying was funny. B and I were both a little disturbed at first that she seemed to be taking pleasure out of another child’s unhappiness, but once we looked at the big picture and recognized that her reaction was a simple coping mechanism, we chilled out.
Maybe we don’t laugh in the face of danger like our kid—we much prefer to submit ourselves to a Netflix-induced coma—but we can understand why she expresses her frustrations the way she does.
Things came to a head one night when we were reading C her bedtime story. She has always really liked this picture book Hug by Jez Alborough. A little chimp named Bobo walks through the African savanna searching for his mommy, who is presumably just out of his eyeshot. The pictures are charming and the story cute and reassuring. But as she has gotten older, C has become more in tune with what is actually going on in it: a child can’t find his mom and becomes extremely upset when his continual search shores up nothing. For a two-year-old, that’s pretty much the scariest thing imaginable.
One night, we were all reading the book together and when we got to the page where Bobo becomes so frustrated that he bursts into tears, C pointed at the picture and once again nervously laughed, “Happy.” In a brief memory lapse of what she was doing, B reminded her that Bobo was crying and that he wasn’t actually happy at all. C, of course, knew this, and absolutely lost it in a way that only a toddler can. She was inconsolable and heartbroken, and she sat there weeping and repeating “no, no, no” for nearly twenty minutes.
B and I felt helpless. She didn’t want to be held or hugged, and she refused her pacifier and her bunny. This was clearly a moment when her emotions were more than she could handle. I could barely keep it together myself because seeing your child so distraught and knowing there’s nothing you can really do for them except be physically present is a tremendously frustrating place. Tears wall you out.
As parents, I think we all know that there comes a time when we have to just leave our children to the messy task of working through their emotions, but we never want it to be so early. She’s only two.
So after 20 minutes of weeping and moaning and gnashing of teeth, we put her in bed, reassuring her that if she needed us, we’d be in the next room. She was still crying, but there was nothing we could do.
And the moment we left her room and shut the door, B and I looked at each other and started giggling frantically. Frantically. Not at her, but at the situation. A two-year-old’s inability to cope with a crying monkey had completely undone us.
It occurred to me that C was right the entire time. Laughing is a really good way of coping when things are too overwhelming.
Maybe the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree after all. We’re all a bunch of weirdos, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Oh and PS. She was asleep three minutes later.
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