Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brotherly Love: The Best Medicine

There's an old saying about motherhood: "The days are long, but the years are short." As the mother of (seemingly overnight) a nine-year-old and a six-year-old, I can fully attest to the statement. But one of the things that can make those looooong, long days a bit shorter, I've found, is laughter.

This is a problem for me. I have known for years that I take myself far too seriously, and often worry that it is rubbing off on my kids. A University of Maryland Medical Center study suggested that a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at stressful situations helps reduce the damaging physical effects of distressing emotions. And we've often heard that laughter can boost immunity. But doesn't that kind of thing have to come naturally? Sure, we all laugh at jokes and silliness, but for some of us, when we are *in* a stressful situation, laughing is the last thing on our minds. What's a mom in need of tantrum-diffusing tools to do?

Outsource. This is one of the best benefits of siblings, in my humble opinion. Take, for example, the other night. Ben had a great day at school, finished his homework and we'd even had fun looking at some train crossing videos together on YouTube. But about 15 minutes before dinner was ready, he melted*. I gave him veggies to nibble on, thinking it was hunger-induced. No good. I asked the boys to wash their hands and pointed out we were having their favorite dinner. More tears. I was extremely proud of myself as I continued to talk in a soothing and low voice, offering suggestions, help and hugs while I waited for this episode to pass, but 45 minutes later, I was nearing the end of my rope and resources. Time to send in a pinch hitter.

Actually, Jacob took it upon himself to step in. An incredibly empathic child, he is the one who knows best how to annoy his brother, because he knows all of his triggers. But for the same reasons, he knows how to help him as well. I turned to the stove to take a deep breath, and behind me I heard a typical, 9-year-old boy (read: disgusting) sound come from the table. Then silence. I held my tongue for a minute, just long enough for the laughter to erupt.

Next Jacob sang a silly song, accompanied by bizarre, goofy dance moves. More laughing--excellent. But as the grossness level rose and the noises got louder, I thought it was time to step in and calm things down. I walked over to the table and said, "OK, guys, let's relax and finish dinner, please." Looking at me, Jacob crossed his eyes and gave off one of the largest belches I've ever heard come out of a human. Benjamin all but fell off his chair, howling. Realizing that, not only was I outnumbered, but about to shoot myself in the foot, I bit my tongue against the impending reprimand, and instead gave Jacob a hug and a kiss.

Parenting is hard. There's no doubt about it. But my kids have taught me so much about how to do the job, and have made it rewarding on so many levels, that I can't imagine a life without them. Yes, there is always sibling rivalry, and of course, we are not always at our best--and are often at our worst when our kids need us to be at our best. But holding on to that regret, and the feeling that we're always doing something wrong is unhealthy. Better to laugh at ourselves and let it go. After all, when they're grown and gone, all I'll remember are the good times anyway. Wouldn't it be great if that's all they remember too?

*melted: had a complete, emotional breakdown for no apparent reason and became inconsolable.

1 comment:

Snowbrush said...

Such a delightfully happy photo. Yes, laughter is good. Too bad that couples so seldom share a sense of humor though. And then there are those people who, however pleasant, don't really seem to have one.