I was sitting at our kitchen island with a lukewarm cup of coffee, quietly minding my own business. My 19-year-old daughter, Lilly, had just come home from her nearby college classes to grab some lunch, and while she sipped spoonfuls of chicken noodle soup beside me, I reviewed my afternoon to-do list and quietly muttered to myself.
Then I heard Lilly giggling. “Hnn, hnn, hnn, hnn, hnn,” she snorted softly through her nose between slurps and swallows.
“What’s so funny?” I asked, hoping she’d let me in on the joke. Instead of responding, she just smiled at me, and her giggle escalated to a chuckle. Then she dropped her spoon into the soup bowl, opened her mouth and threw her head back into a belly laugh.
“What is it?!” I demanded.
“You!” she finally said between gasps for breath. My brows furrowed with confusion, and Lilly only laughed harder. Exasperated, I rubbed my eyes and sighed, which was apparently so hilarious, Lilly’s laughter went completely silent. With her mouth in a toothy, wide-open grin and her eyelids squeezed tightly shut, she rocked back and forth as if she was experiencing some kind of intolerable fit.
I wondered, “What could be so funny about me sitting here, at our kitchen island, with a cup of coffee, going over my to-do list like I’ve done every day of my adult life?”
Lilly’s fit of hilarity slowly subsided, descending through each stage of laughter — from silent convulsing, to gasping guffaws, to rapid-fire chuckles, to snorting giggles — until she was able to resume soup sipping. Having regained her composure, she tried to explain what made her laugh in the first place. “You’re just, I don’t know, funny ... that look on your face,” she said, and the giggling started all over again.
After all the years of unsuccessfully trying to make my kids laugh, why was I suddenly so funny, without even trying? Was my daughter making fun of me? Should I have been offended? Should I have told her to stop being disrespectful?
I remembered when my mother suddenly seemed hilarious to me, too, during my high school days. Throughout my earlier adolescence, everything she said and did was annoying, irritating, corny, old-fashioned, or just plain stupid. My ocular muscles were finely tuned from all the eye-rolling I directed at her in my early teens.
But then, out of the blue, I started to notice little things — the way my mother said “Whadidyousay?” every 10 minutes; the droopiness of her wrists; the goofy sashay in her walk; the way her Southern drawl added extra syllables to words like day-own (down) and wi-yund (wind); her tendency to excitedly point out every cattail, bird and meandering stream. Once my brother and I became conscious of my mother’s comical tendencies, all she needed to do was point a finger from her droopy wrist and say, “Look! Over they-er! It’s an egret!” and we would dissolve into convulsive laughter.
I remember my mother’s confusion at our hysteria. I’m sure she felt some unease with being made fun of. She didn’t stop us, however, because she was relieved that my brother and I weren’t fighting. My mother may have worried that my brother and I were being disrespectful, but our amusement was merely a sign of our changing perspectives. As children grow and gain independence, the roles of mother and child adapt and change. It’s a good sign when teenagers find their parents funny, because they are finally transitioning from the intolerant, eye-rolling phase of childhood into an era of appreciation.
While giggling uncontrollably at a parent’s every move, comment and facial expression might not seem very appreciative, it is, arguably, a step in the right direction. Identifying my mother’s humorous qualities when I was a teenager opened my eyes as an adult to her intelligence, creativity, work ethic and selflessness. Lilly can laugh at me all she wants, because I know that, in her own juvenile way, she appreciates me.
And dare I say that, one day, she might even respect me, too. A mom can dream, can’t she?