Western North Carolina Woman

writing funny (just add kids)
by tori gallagher

I am not funny. I have never been funny. I tell jokes badly, am always slow with a comeback and can never remember an appropriate anecdote for the situation. If I am popular at parties, it is because I listen well and am adept at finding someone who wants to be listened to so that I can maintain the illusion of mingling. In the past few years though, I discovered that sometimes I can write funny. I don’t know how this happened. Perhaps it is because I have listened to so many stories that I am finally learning to tell them. Or maybe it’s because writing is a whole other ball game.

I discovered something since I acquired children. I discovered that raising children and running a household is sometimes fun and gratifying, sometimes lonely and mind-numbingly boring, and often exasperating. And if I write about that—what exasperates me most —it comes out funny, and I stop being quite so put out with our children which is good, because if they weren’t so funny and cute we would probably have eaten them by now. So now that I have acquired a family, I find myself surrounded by funny people. The children by virtue of being exactly what they are—little aliens new to the world and largely still unjaded and untrained—are never-ending founts of material (for writing, not my therapist). That too, though. (Okay, I don’t really have a therapist. Not yet.)

My partner is also funny. She has one of the sharpest wits I’ve ever come across and a genetic inclination to use it as often as possible. (I’ve met her family. I know.) That little switch that most of us have somewhere in our brains that tells us that perhaps, this is not the time to say that, no matter how funny it may be, doesn’t work (or exist) in her brain. If she thinks it and it’s funny, it comes out of her mouth. And we all usually giggle or pretend not to while we feign shock that she said such a thing—these are not x-rated things, mind you, just TRUE ones. And most of us are trained early not to say TRUE things. That’s where tact comes in. It tells you when not to tell the truth. But it does not tell her. She says the thing anyway and, let’s face it—it’s funny. Because funny lacks tact. It lets its hair down and speaks the truth in a deadpan voice, unabashedly. It says what we all want to say but are afraid to for fear of hurting some one’s feelings or being thought the less of. Funny is freedom. It’s a pressure relief valve—for me when I write it.

And that is the best way I know to survive parenthood and stay sane when the boys are chasing each other up and down the hallway shouting because there’s three inches of snow on the ground outside so I can’t throw them out there too long or they will roll and revel in it until their wet clothes begin to freeze to their skin and I have to be the bad guy and make them come in and thaw out which they will do by running up and down the hallway shouting while the dogs chase them and the cat flees and I dodge them all carrying the laundry basket until I finally lose it and tell them my head is going to explode if they don’t quiet down. And they think that is funny. So they laugh. Loudly. And then they run around some more in delight. But I don’t think it’s funny—my head exploding. It just sounds messy really and messy means there will be something else for me to clean up soon.

Ogden Nash once said “Parents were invented to make children happy by giving them something to ignore.” And this is true. Not all the time. Sometimes our children want me—when they are hungry, hurt or must find a lost toy right now, they want me. Beyond that I might as well be a piece of furniture like a couch or an ottoman. But I am an ottoman that occasionally insists that they do their homework or take baths or go to bed, so they generally like the ottoman better. It’s easier to climb on. (I tend to protest loudly when they climb on me now that they are getting bigger. The ottoman doesn’t protest at all. It just breaks. And then I have to fix it.)

A friend of mine asked me the other day if I ever write about anything other than being a parent and a homemaker. I said yes, I write about putting up Christmas trees and trips to Walmart and flying on airplanes. But then I thought, that’s all about the children too. I put up the Christmas tree for the kids. When I was young, single and childless I did it once but my cat knocked it down three times and I didn’t bother with it the years after that. Now the cat, the dogs and the boys take turns knocking it down and still each year we untangle lights and unpack ornaments and vacuum up needles to put up the tree because it’s all a part of making a holiday for them. And I would probably never travel to Walmart if they didn’t have the cheapest almost-everything-you-might-need for little boys.

So yes, I guess I do always write about being a parent. Except for riding the airplane. I did that because I am a daughter. But still you could rationalize that I rode the airplane because my parents needed me so as to model appropriate filial behavior for our children when they are grown. When I am older and you are grown up and my house gets washed away in a hurricane, you get on a plane and come see me, like I am doing, see? Even if the plane looks older than me and shakes and rattles like my washing machine and doesn’t look like it’s terribly happy about being several thousand feet above the ground with a bunch of soft, fleshy things in its belly that probably will not bounce if the plane suddenly falls out of the sky.

They say you should write what you know. Well I still don’t know how much I know about parenting and writing isn’t about should to me. It’s more about must. When I don’t, all those words and stories jangle around in my head making a terrible ruckus until it becomes difficult to sleep or to do my 6000th load of laundry or sink full of dishes because housework just isn’t all that gratifying and somehow a story on paper is, especially if it makes people laugh. Because humor is a common language after all. It tramples boundaries, erases differences and takes the sting out of the cut. And I can only do it when I write. So I do. As often as the words in my head need to spill out.

Tori Gallagher lives with her partner and their three sons in West Asheville where she spends much of her time exploring and writing about the trials of a modern family in a post-modern world (or just wondering how the comic slice of the American pie ended up on her plate). She aspires one day to remember a punch line at a party.

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