Holly died. Holly was my daughter’s tiny hamster. We buried it up on the hill behind our place. My daughter cried a lot.
We got another hamster. A bigger, stronger, healthier one. It died, too. My daughter didn’t cry as much. We buried it up with the smaller hamster up on the hill behind our place.
We bought a third hamster. It died. No tears this time. We buried it in our burgeoning pet cemetery out back.
“Say your prayers at night,” I said, “or the hamsters will rise from their graves and attack you.”
She laughed. “Hamster zombies,” she squealed and made a rodent face.
“Run for your lives!” I yelled. I tried to get away but she pounced on me, nibbled my arm, and giggled all the while.
We haven’t bought another hamster since, but we’ve laughed a lot. That’s what binds us, it seems, jokes. That’s what connects us, I guess, finding those silver linings in those black days. It’s what makes us both who we are, I’ve discovered — our ability to laugh in the face of hardships and difficulties. And when things aren’t difficult? All the more reason to laugh.
It crystalized for me, how she is my daughter, that we have similar sensibilities, when we went to go see the movie Rango. It’s a weird, funny movie. The theater was packed and everyone was enjoying themselves, laughing at all the appropriate spots in the movie.
There was this one scene, though. It was quiet and there was just a bit of dialogue between the characters. One character says, “That there is a belly button.” My daughter and I roared with laughter. No one else in the theater did. We looked at each other realizing that fact and laughed even harder.
My divorce undoubtedly took a toll on her. Probably still does. I have no idea, really, how that has shaped, will shape her. It’s affected me in a thousand different ways and a thousand ways more. We talk about it when we can, discuss it over tacos, but, mostly, we do our best to make light of that tremendous burden.
When she leaves, and I know I won’t be able to see her for several days, I said, “I’ll miss you as much as I miss a pencil jammed into my eye socket!”
“I’ll miss you, too, dad, like a miss getting my butt burned by an explosive fart.” Yeah — explosive farts — that’s how much we love each other.
My own mom divorced my dad when I got out of high school. It had been clear they were heading in that direction, perhaps, my entire life. My mom is wildly funny, different, views the world a little more skewed then the average person. The word ‘prune’ makes her giggle in fits. So do the words ‘bread dough.’ She went to work once on Halloween dressed like a slug. A slug with a slimy slug trail following.
On St. Patrick’s Day my mom makes the morning’s oatmeal green. At holiday gatherings, now that my siblings and I are all adults, we poke fun at her and her cooking skills, or lack thereof. She laughs right along with us then stands and sings Fiddler on the Roof songs for no apparent reason. All this is to say my mom’s humor was passed onto me, and it’s being passed on to my kid. And, further, the whole time my parents were together, I don’t ever recall seeing them laugh together. What a tragedy. Truly.
Near the end of my marriage, I didn’t laugh much with my then-wife, either. How desperately sad, not to be able to snicker at problems, laugh at qualms, chuckle over our supposed hardships. That’s what happens, sometimes, I guess.
I make sure there’s laughter in my house with my daughter. As much as possible, anyway. We tell each other knock-knock jokes that make no sense, but which cut us up.
“Jelly? I’m an angry giraffe!”
We write little chapbooks together about farts. We come up with stories about humorous hobos, because there’s nothing quite as a funny as a hobo. For one thing — they’re called hobos. We tickle and tackle, wrestle and rassle, all with humor at the forefront. God, I hope that never changes.
When she gets hurt, a scrape on the knee, a cut on the finger, I do my best to make her smile as fast as humanly possible. It usually involves falling off the bed and landing on my head.
Laughter is the best medicine. When she has a rough day at school, I listen, offering up my opinions, thoughts and encouragements. Then, usually, I fall off the bed and land on my head.
And when something really bad happens — like a pet dying, or a friend moving away, or something unforeseen that happens to a family member — I hug her, hard. I tell her I love her and tell her that a thousand times more.
And, when she’s not as low, not as sad, when the fears and frustrations have dissipated, and the tears are dried and she feels like she’s been heard and validated and feeling a little bit warmer than she did, I fall off the bed and land on my head. I yell, “Run for your lives!” and chase her into the living room. I pounce on her and nibble her arms.
“The hamsters are alive. ALIVE!”
The laughter rings throughout the place. That’s the only thing you can hear. That, and our hearts.
Jonathan Shipley is a freelance writer living in Fremont. He enjoys many things including losing to his daughter at most every board game ever created.