Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

It had been a long and intense evening of discussion. Mother, father, daughter all holed up in her room, while the boys waited in another part of the house and wondered if they were going to get to eat dinner.

We discussed her school schedule and our disagreements about it. We discussed priorities, desires, boys, grades, cell phones, behavior, attitude. She got angry, calmed down, cried, tried to distract herself by cleaning her room. Every once in awhile, the dog or the preschooler or the dog and the preschooler made an appearance. Daryl tried to remind us there were other people in the house. The discussion lasted nearly two hours and left us all drained. Drained, but not really at odds with each other. From the parental perspective, the talk had gone well. We had accomplished our objectives.

Per the new cell phone directives, she handed me her phone as she resumed her homework. I looked down at her wall paper and asked who it was.

“Channing Tatum,” she replied, smiling up at me like she dared me to say something. She had recently had a mild argument with her aunt over whether he qualified as “hot”.

After a brief pause for effect, I smiled back and nodded. “You’ve got pretty good taste.”

“I know,” she said. And then under her breath but with a smile, “Unlike you.”

“What did you say?”

“Well… my dad’s really not all that, ya know.”

“What are you talking about?! He is the hottest man on the planet!”

Laughing, she put her hands up in protest. “Okay, you can stop now.”

“No, really. Your dad is hot!”

“That’s enough!”

“You should have seen him in high school…”

“Really! You don’t need to do this!”

“…He was so tall with broad shoulders…” I gazed longingly at him in the other room as she interrupted.

“Enough! Please! I don’t need to hear this!”

I adopted my best imitation of her swooning teenager voice. “I’m telling you. He was a man among boys!”

“Okaaayyy!!” The embarrassed laughter and friendly banter seemed to break through the slightly reserved interaction we had had a few minutes prior. As she laughed and kicked around, the smiley face eraser fell off her pencil and onto the floor. Rose dove in after it.

“Rose! No! Don’t eat my smiley face! Mom! She just ate my eraser!”

Rose certainly appeared to have something in her mouth so I reached down to fish it out while Jane nearly fell over from laughing. That’s when I noticed the eraser tucked behind a chair leg. We laughed some more. It felt good.

I had been down in the dumps all day, dreading the conversation. It is more difficult to parent a preteen/teenager than I ever could have imagined. The previous night, her dad and I had discussed what we needed to talk to Jane about. I was distressed and anxious. I didn’t want to be a parent of a twelve year old anymore. I didn’t want to do the hard work. I didn’t want to take the abuse. I didn’t want to have the arguments that are inevitable when what the parents think is best conflicts with what the child wants.

Then we talked. And it was hard. But not as bad as I had feared. And then we laughed and teased and I was in love with my daughter again. There will be more rough times ahead; but as long as we can find something to laugh about afterwards, maybe it will all be ok.

Why Won’t You Marry Me?

Jane has a boyfriend. Well, she has a boyfriend in the sixth grade sense of the word, which is to say that the other kids at school call him her boyfriend and she accepts it. Even though they don’t go on dates. Or hold hands. Or hang out together at lunch. Or do much of anything except say hi in the halls.

They did go to the high school homecoming football game together. His mom even made her a “mum” to wear. I took pictures of the nervous couple and then off they went with his mom.

Mat has liked Jane for a very long time. It all began ten years ago in the 18 month old class at the preschool. He started off calling her his girlfriend. It didn’t seem to have much of an effect on her. She was still almost as likely to bite him as she was her best friend.

As they got older, he began to insist that she was going to marry him. Sometimes, he outright called her his wife. For the most part, she tolerated the attention with good grace. They attended each other’s birthday parties and enjoyed each other’s company.

By the time they were turning five and in their last year at the preschool, she began to chafe a bit. One day, Mat became exasperated.

“Why, Jane? WHY won’t you say that you’ll marry me?”

“I’m not going to marry you, Mat.”

“Yes you are! I’ve already decided!”

“No! You don’t get to decide.” At this point she thrust her arm straight up into the air with her index finger pointing to the sky. “GOD decides!”

The next year, they headed to separate elementary schools, still inviting each other to their birthday parties. One year, Jane was the only girl invited to dinner and swimming. The boys were spending the night at a hotel. When it was time for us to pick up Jane, she begged us to let her stay.

Eventually, the distance seemed to make a difference. We heard rumors that Mat had a girlfriend and it wasn’t Jane. Jane was fine with that. She saw him once a week in TAG (talented and gifted). She became upset if we teased her about him being her “boyfriend”. She insisted she wasn’t interested.

Apparently, he still had a soft spot for her though. Once he claimed to a mutual friend, “Jane still likes me.”

The boy responded, “No, no, I don’t think so.”

“Yeah, she still likes me. I know she does.”

“No, she pretty much hates you,” he insisted. And that was my assessment of the relationship too. Not that she hated him, but that she didn’t like him. At least, not that way.

Needless to say, I was caught off guard when she climbed in the car one day after school and said, “Mat asked me to go to homecoming with him.”

“Oh, really? What did you say?”

“I said no, of course! That’s like four years away!”

“I’m pretty sure he was referring to this year’s football game, honey.”

“Oh. Well I still don’t want to go. He didn’t actually ask me. He asked Bella to ask me and when she told me, I said no and then he called out, ‘Don’t listen to her, Jane! She’s lying!'”

“Well, just tell him that your parents said you are too young to date.”

The next morning, she approached me saying that she still kind of liked Mat and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I told her she didn’t have to go out with a boy just to avoid hurting his feelings. “Just be nice.”

A few days later, I received this off-hand remark: “Oh, by the way Mom, I told Mat that I wanted to go with him so you need to call his mom and work it out.”

“What happened to ‘my parents said I can’t date’?” She shrugged and hurried away.

A day or two after that: “I changed my mind. I don’t want to go.”

“Well, you need to tell Mat since you already said yes.”

“I don’t think he really heard me anyway.”

I was beginning to get whiplash. A couple of days later, a message arrived from his mom. My phone displayed the first part: So Mat sorta kinda asked Jane to homecoming.

I showed her the message and raised my eyebrows. “Looks like he did hear you.”

“Oh, yeah. I forgot. I decided I do want to go, so you need to talk to his mom.”

We had several conversations after that about expectations and proper behavior, what she should and shouldn’t do. We gave her a cell phone for the night and talked about what to do if she was at all uncomfortable at any point. I even stopped by the football game to see how she was doing.

It was a lot of worrying over nothing. They were just hanging out. Sometimes together. Sometimes apart, each with their own friends. At the end of the night, his sister encouraged him to give Jane a hug. He declined. It’s a sixth grade “romance”.

Who knows whether it will grow into something more. Probably not. But I’ll always find it kind of sweet that her first “date”, no matter how innocent, was with a young man that first fell in love with her before either was potty trained.

The Start of Us

Teenagers are goofy creatures. When I was in high school, note passing was serious business. Sometimes I think more communication took place in missives passed in the halls or across the classroom aisles than during lunch or after school.

I passed notes with several people. One was my best friend’s (recently ex-)boyfriend, who also happened to be my (recently ex-)boyfriend’s best friend. Got that? Like I said, goofy. We were in Latin club together and had come to enjoy each other’s company.

I had begun to “like” him but he was already dating someone else. I liked him enough that I resolved to just be his friend if I couldn’t be more than that. Lucky for me, the girlfriend broke up with him.

One day, shortly before Halloween, he asked me – in a note, of course – who I “liked”. I listed three names. First names only. One was his.

He wrote back, “So tell me more about this ‘Daryl’ guy.”

I don’t remember exactly how I responded. I suspect I was worried about being rejected, despite the undeniable signals I was getting from him. So I’m sure I paid him some compliments and also made some little jibes, enough that I wouldn’t be too embarrassed if he wasn’t interested.

He wrote back, “What would your answer be if I asked you to go with me?” I guess I wasn’t the only one that was uncertain about the path forward.

My mom had some really old books on a shelf in the living room. One of them was a ladies’ etiquette guide from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. I found the proper response to a gentleman who has requested permission to court and decided to use it. After all, that’s basically what he was doing.

Then, on Halloween day, 1990, he popped the question. Via a passed note. “Will you go with me?” I wrote “yes.”

And thus was the start of us.

We have other anniversaries. There’s the day he asked me to marry him, and then the day nearly 10 months later when we told people we were engaged. And, of course, our wedding day. Halloween, though, was and always will be our first anniversary. The day the two of us officially started down the path that has led us to where we are now. Still in love. And still goofy.