"Fool for Love"

From the start, silliness and laughter have bolstered the bond between my daughter and me.

A girl laughs at her mom telling jokes for bonding with her child.

I’ve always enjoyed clever wordplay. Growing up in a family where wisecracking was a competitive sport, I learned early on how to hold my own in verbal one-upmanship. I used to daydream about trading quips with Robert Benchley at the Algonquin Round Table.

But that was before I became the mother of a little girl whose taste in comedy runs to slapstick. These days, I am more Jerry Lewis than Dorothy Parker. I bumble around like the Nutty Professor for the entertainment of a child who thinks there’s nothing funnier than seeing me trip on an imaginary banana peel and fall in a heap on the floor. Pride goeth before a pratfall, and I’d be mortified if anyone else caught my performance. But safe inside the walls of my home, I’m a fool for love.

If you could see my daughter, you’d know why. Tessa is beautiful under any circumstances, but she is never more charming than when she laughs. Her eyes curve into dark crescents, her perfect white teeth gleam, and her cheeks twinkle with dimples. Since I became her mother, I’ve learned what falling in love really means, and it’s worth the trip.

The first time I made Tessa laugh, she was 10 months old. She had spent most of her infancy in an orphanage. Our adoption agency cautioned us that she might be emotionally withdrawn when we met her, grieving over the loss of her familiar surroundings.

But the first evening we spent together, she looked wary, not sad; she seemed to be sizing us up. The next day, I was gently cuddling and kissing her when I found the ticklish spot behind her ear. She giggled and revealed those amazing dimples to us for the first time. Encouraged, I hid under a cloth diaper and asked, “Where’s Mama?” She snatched the diaper off my head with a mischievous gleam in her eyes and chuckled triumphantly.

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My husband and I beamed at one another. If there was one quality we would have wished for our new daughter, it was a sense of humor. Who knew whether she had ever played peek-a-boo before? But she caught on to the joke immediately. Her sense of humor was intact; she came to us equipped with a capacity for happiness, and we had only to fill it up.

And that’s when my comedy career was born. If putting a diaper on my head got a laugh, what would happen if I put a shoe on my head? Or accidentally tripped and fell? Or pretended to eat from the cat’s bowl? Fortunately, Tessa stops me before I do myself any harm, so I’ve never ingested Little Friskies. “Silly Mommy,” she says, clapping her hand to her forehead and rolling her eyes in exaggerated dismay at my antics. She has a natural dignity and grace that make her the perfect straight man.

It’s a role that kids relish, I think. Young children have a finely honed sense of the absurd. They are tickled to see the little bit of knowledge they have acquired in their short lives turned upside down. Childhood humor is the comic equivalent of the learning game Which thing doesn’t belong? It’s even funnier when an adult is the one who doesn’t quite belong, which is why I’m now a living punch line.

And I’ve reaped unexpected benefits from getting in touch with my inner clown. I’m secretly glad to get a break from taking myself so seriously. When Tessa and I share a laugh at my expense, we also share the understanding that I don’t have all the answers; we’re learning together how the world works. (Starting with the law of gravity.)

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But my slapstick performances may soon come to an end. Tessa is a sophisticated second-grader now, and she’s gaining an appreciation for verbal humor. Granted, for a seven-year-old that means booger jokes. Its been a long time since my brother and I cracked each other up telling booger jokes, but I still remember the formula: Just substitute the word booger for any word in a song, movie, or book title. One night recently I had Tessa rolling on the floor with my renditions of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Booger” and “Row, Row, Row Your Booger.”

Hey, even Dorothy Parker had to start somewhere.


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