I don’t know if you have noticed this, but my family relies heavily on humor for communication and bonding. When we all lived in one place, we’d spend evenings watching stand-up comic specials or movie comedies, share clips of favorite comedy TV shows, endlessly quote lines from funny movies, and had informal competitions to make each other laugh so hard we lost composure.
Dinnertime has always been our best time together not because of the warmth inspired by everyone sharing their day, giving each other loving looks over the mashed potatoes, but because that’s when the impersonations would start. Matt does an awesome Stewie from Family Guy (I used his impersonation as my ringtone for calls from Matt.) Sophia can impersonate Daniel Craig (which doesn’t sound funny, but is HILARIOUS.) Thomas is our biggest clown, with impersonations and improvisational skills that far outshine the rest of us. And Tim, the former DJ, can manipulate his voice to sound like most of the Muppets, several former presidents, and the whole Simpsons family. My favorite of his voices is Homer Simpson.
Once, when he was acting like a spoiled teenager, Homer said “When I turn 18 I am SO out of here!” We’ve used that quote for years as a laugh line, a way of eliciting a giggle from a frustrated teenager.
Humor has the power to neutralize a difficult situation. Laughter has glued us together as a family. A Brady-Bunch type of union, we are not biologically bound to one another, but our shared dinner-table antics and inside jokes (*84) make us feel united. During the hardest years, we still had moments of laughter bringing us together. We have intelligent kids, and humor is a sign of great intelligence, observation, and critical thinking.
I forget that the rest of the world hasn’t witnessed our family laugh festivals, and so doesn’t know that this is how we communicate. We have had plenty of tender moments, long discussions where we share our feelings and sort out differences. It’s not *all* the distraction of humor. Plenty of emotional blood has been spilled in this family, and we’ve helped each other through very difficult times.
But banter tossing is how we keep tabs on each other as we’re moving out of proximity. Using humor, especially our private language of jokes, is a way of saying “I see you, I know you’re out there, I’m still here, I still know you.”
I’ve been saying (jokingly) for years that when our youngest turned 18, I would be “gone.” “When he turns 18 I am SO out of here!” Our youngest turned 18 today. Coincidentally, I am leaving the area in six months. You all know the story. If you’ve been following along, you know this decision to leave is well considered, not merely a function of my contractual parenting agreement reaching fulfillment.
You also know that my devotion to our kids does not end just because they reach majority.
In this case, I very much use humor to shield myself from the painful truth of leaving this life we’ve had together. It’s time to move into the next stage. My oldest child is now living on his own and supporting himself, a fact that makes my heart hurt just to think about. Yes, I’m proud of him, but I miss him so much it hurts. And my daughter is so close to living on her own–she doesn’t even know how close she is–and doesn’t need me anymore. The youngest one has been ready to leave for three years, but I forced him to slow down and be a kid for a little while, something he didn’t get the chance to do. I’m so honored I had the chance to help him squeeze a little childhood in before he jumped into adulthood.
The fact that all three of them are moving beyond me hurts like hell. But what am I going to do? Sitting around crying about it doesn’t seem to change anything. It’s better if I find a way to laugh about it, to steel myself to the reality by repeating the words over and over; it’s over, it’s ending, I’m leaving. I’m leaving in small part so I’m not stuck in this hometown of which I’m not too fond, surrounded only by the memories of children who aren’t children anymore, those small, soft faces now matured into beautiful, wise, self-sufficient adults that I love more than I’ve loved anything or anyone before. All three of them are so beautiful and amazing I don’t have words to express it.
I will have pictures, and their baby boxes, and recordings of their laughs. But I will not have them to hold on my lap anymore. So I am moving away, in part to run from the ghosts of their childhood. Now that the youngest one is 18, I am *so* out of here.
And if I hear Tim doing Homer’s voice in my head, I can laugh about it. And then I can move on.