November 27, 2008

Learning to Laugh With and At Each Other

Written By Cary Schmidt

A Little Helpful Insight from Our Family Antics

Yesterday, a little after noon, we finally loaded up in the car and began our traditional, annual family trek to Northern California for Thanksgiving. We’ve made this trip eighteen times now, so we’ve gone from “middle-of the-night-driving” with kids in diapers to “middle-of-the-day-driving” with kids watching Buzz Lightyear to evening driving with teenagers insulting us and each other. During yesterday’s trip, the traffic was unusually heavy, which gave us several more hours in the day together.

As you might imagine, five relatively witty people packed into a minivan for eight hours can get pretty funny. And as my kids have grown, it seems they have inherited their dad’s, their grandfathers’, and their great-grandfather’s wit all at once. There are three of them—Lance, our seventeen-year-old, who works hard at having an “all-together” image, but eventually ends up cracking up at himself the most; Larry, our fourteen-year-old who sees humor in just about anything and always makes us laugh hard; and Haylee, our eight-year-old going on twenty five—she actually surprises us with her quick, witty, and often unusually insightful comebacks!

Our family never has more fun than when we’re making fun of each other. Perhaps we are all half-insane, I’m not sure. But once we get started, it seems there’s no end! And the great part is, NO ONE is exempt! By the time we’re done, every single person in the family has had every oddity, every embarrassing moment, every personality quirk rehashed, imitated, exaggerated, and colorfully re-enacted for the enjoyment of the other four. Can I share the details? No. But just imagine four people laughing their heads off for twenty minutes and one moaning, “Nuh uh… be quiet…” the entire time. Then it’s like someone rolls the dice and suddenly it’s someone else’s turn to start saying, “Nuh uh… be quiet…” and the last humiliated person picks up their dignity and joins right in—glad their turn is over! In short, it’s hilarious!!

Well, yesterday Lance piped up in the middle of all the fun and said, “Listen to us! We’re just bagging on each other! My family is NOT going to do this!” To which we all reminded him that he’s as much a part of it as we all are. He then proceeded to explain that he doesn’t really do this, we just draw him into it. Well, we all just jumped on that and made fun of him for twenty minutes while he said, “Nuh uh…” He may as well have just volunteered to be “next.” But I began to consider his point. Is there a method to our family madness? Of course there is.

First, Proverbs 15 teaches that a merry heart is a continual feast and produces a cheerful countenance. (The fact that my merry heart is produced by another family member’s weirdness?—well, that’s their problem.) We sure have a good time laughing with and at each other. But beyond that, there’s a deeper point.

When the traffic finally cleared, we made our way to a Baker’s Square to have dinner. It was early into dinner that Larry and I playfully started putting little pieces of straw paper into each others drink. Me first, then him, then me again then him—each paper getting a little bigger. He thought he had me when he put nearly a whole crumpled straw paper into my soda. But then I grabbed my silverware (stilled tightly wrapped in a napkin) and jammed the whole thing down into his drink. His jaw dropped, eyes widened, and the whole table started laughing harder than I can describe. It took us several moments to catch our breath. I had won, and he knew it.

It was shortly after this moment that I decided to teach our kids why we carry on this way as a family. I believe that learning to laugh at ourselves is a huge part of family life. Being able to take the good-natured laughter of others helps us grow thicker emotional skin. And being able to join in the laughter at ourselves helps us keep a proper perspective. We all tend to take ourselves too seriously. All families tend to have rivalry. We compete with each other unnecessarily. But everybody likes a person who can laugh at themselves! And I believe that families who can playfully jab at each others oddities without it becoming a knock-down-drag-out fight have something pretty special!

Well, I shared these thoughts with our kids. Told Lance his family would most likely do this and why. And then Haylee started talking—incidentally she has about four teeth that are only partially grown in. Suddenly, picking up the baton once again, Larry looked at her and said, “Haylee, why don’t you stop talking and just grow some teeth.” (But she was talking and missed it.) So, being proud of Larry for coming up with a “great one,” I repeated it to her. She stopped mid-sentence, smiled with a frown, huffed a little, and instantly shot back to me—”Well, why don’t you stop talking and just grow some hair!”

At this point, the whole family absolutely fell apart with laughter. Except for me. I just moaned and said, “Nuh uh… be quiet…” My wife laughed the hardest. She almost fell out of the booth! I too laughed. Haylee? She just gloated. She was so proud of herself. Yes, of all the insults and jabs of the trip—this was the best. It’s almost like there was an unspoken crowning ceremony—an invisible awarding of a gold medal. Everybody stopped because we all knew no one could top that one.

And once again Dad was getting a taste of his own medicine and having to apply his own lesson. Laughter is a wonderful gift! And being able to laugh at yourself is a great gift to others! Everybody likes to laugh and everybody likes someone who can laugh at themselves—because when you get right down to it—we’re all pretty weird!

One word of caution, if your family doesn’t regularly practice this strange behavior of “bagging on each other”—I wouldn’t just up and start flinging insults around the Thanksgiving table. You might get yourself killed or seriously maimed by a meat fork. Start with yourself and make sure everybody knows they have the right to laugh at you first.

Proverbs 15:13 A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.

Proverbs 15:15 All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.

Proverbs 17:22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.