Go Ahead, Laugh Now

If you’re a mom of small children, do you ever find yourself resenting the daily grind and responsibilities of caring for little ones? Of course you do! During this blog series one of my primary goals is to put my arm around your shoulder and remind you that:

  • You’re not alone
  • Don’t be condemned by your/your children’s sinful choices
  • You’re gonna miss this
  • Sooner than you think you’ll be looking up to them

(If you haven’t read those posts yet you can scroll down to do so.) Motherhood is like any other hard work: it’s tiring. Day after day you do the same things over and over. I want to share with you a really effective secret to offset the challenges of your often wearisome life. So here’s what I want to tell you today: effective mothers know how to laugh.

My mother taught me to laugh at my children. As a grandmother I now know why she so easily found humor in the things my kids said and did. She laughed as she told me that 2-year-old Josh put a booger in her mouth during worship one Sunday morning (she thought it was part of his chewing gum). Laughed when she tripped over one of the kids shoes and heard a little voice yelling, “Wow Nannie, your underwear is huge!” Laughed when antics that tempted me to be frustrated with interruptions and changed plans sent her scurrying to the bathroom because laughter pressure sends lots of older mothers running to pee.

She taught me well. While I worked hard to teach and train my kids, I also loved laughing at them. (Still do!) Laughter takes the edge off training and even disciplining them. Before Mom moved in with us for her last 8 years she and I talked on the phone almost daily. Her favorite part of the conversation was when I shared a funny thing or two that happened that day — and as soon as we got off the phone I knew she was calling one of her sisters to brighten their day with the latest grandkid story. Knowing how much Mom loved to laugh at my kids helped me look for and find humor in things that may have otherwise left me scowling.

Don’t get me wrong; I still got irritated. But when I would complain to Mom about finding clean and folded sheets turned into a fort in the boys room or finally discovering a bunch of missing apples in the toilet, her guffaws reminded me that laughter really is “good medicine.”

Recently a friend commented that she noticed how much our family laughs together. Hmmm…sometimes the laughter is in the form of mocking that we don’t know is hurtful (usually to one of us girls). But she’s right. We love to laugh. Mom taught us that. And without her reminders I think I would have taken motherhood way too seriously.

“Taken motherhood too seriously?” you ask. “Motherhood is the most serious thing ever! And if I laugh at my kids they won’t take me seriously. Surely you’re not saying I should encourage their wrong behavior or attitudes by laughing at them?!?”

Motherhood is the.most.serious.thing you will do with your life. Nurturing little people and doing your part to prepare them to be mature, wise, courageous and godly young adults is no small task! Rearing little boys and girls to embrace their roles and responsibilities in the home, church and society is…well…really serious.

But take it from a woman who has devoted nearly thirty-five years to the weighty responsibilities of raising kids: laughing at them is really important.

Sometimes you can’t let them see you laugh. Like the time 9-year-old Janelle ran headlong down the basketball court in the wrong direction but eager to score with her Nannie screaming, “Go, MIssy! Go!!!!” Or the time 4-year-old Josh “bathed” his little sister in (clean, thankfully!) toilet water using Mommy’s maxipads. Or the day I found my toddler sons in a fist fight for the first (and only, thankfully!) time and had to stop chuckling before I broke it up.

Even when letting them see your grins could embarrass them or minimize the wrong of what they’re doing, grin secretly on. Kids are funny and sometimes Moms can’t see the forest for the trees. Enjoying the wonder and hilarity of having little kids around makes the weight more bearable.

Once I realized that I needed to be a laughing mom I decided that the first words out of my mouth to Benny would be something funny the kids did or said. Prior to that I found myself looking forward to him calling or walking in the door because I could finally let off some of the days’ steam. I wanted something — sympathy? thanks? comfort? help? — so I too often unleashed my woes from the day onto my husband.

What a difference it made to let my first comments to him about the day be funny ones. Like the time Josh, Jaime and I searched for nearly 30 minutes for 3-year-old Jesse, only to find him in the kitchen closet patiently waiting to say “Boo!” to me as I walked by. In earlier years I would have complained about how exasperated I was by him not responding to our repeated calls — and how Daddy needed to talk to him about how important it is to respect and respond to Mommy and how dinner was gonna be late because I wasted thirty minutes looking for his son.

Stop and think about the things your kids did months or years ago that resulted in you being mad or frustrated or tardy — but that you now hold as endearing memories that make you smile. Why not smile sooner rather than later? Being a mother gives you a front row seat to a multi-year comedy club! American’s Funniest Home Videos is happening at your house multiple times throughout the weeks and months. When you walk in to get a 2-year-old up one morning  and find poop finger painted on the walls above the crib, you can think, “Perfect. Just how I wanted to start my day! Thanks, kid.” Or you can stop for a second and fast forward to the day when you’ll tell his or her fiance about this. So go grab your camera.

If it’ll be funny later, it can be funny now.

My Legacy Curriculum

Yesterday would have been Mom’s 86th birthday. Since her death in July 2000, I have missed her greatly. But for some reason, this year it hit harder than in recent years.

One of my favorite pics of her…so typical.

Missing her has been tempered by a deep-rooted joy in knowing she is in heaven. Mom had a genuine, tested-by-fire and saving faith in Jesus Christ. I was there when she met her Savior as children and grandchildren worshiped around her hospital bed. And her final words have helped me through some weighty trials over the past 13 years: “God is in control and everything He does is good.”

Over the past week my thoughts of Mom have produced musings about the legacy I want to leave for My People. I want my life to count for those I will never meet in this life. Mom died before any of my eleven and counting grandchildren were born. But her life has influenced theirs through my children and me. How? Here are just a couple of the ways…

We love to laugh. Especially at each other.

Mom (far right) with Aunt Ocie and Aunt Vergie on Jaime’s 13th birthday.

Hardly a day passed without Mom calling one of her sisters to tell them some hilarious (to her, at least) story about one of her grandchildren. Sometimes I used to stand at the door of the little apartment we added onto our home just to hear her “die laughing” with one of the Aunts about some antic or silly saying by one of the kids. Her ability to find and enjoy humor in everyday life situations taught me to do the same…and one of our favorite things to do as a fam is tell exaggerated stories about one another. We love to laugh because of her.

One of the many showers she helped me with!

Food isn’t just to keep us alive.

Being raised during the depression affected Mom in several ways, and one of them was the cherished place food had in being a family. Everything was homemade with very few written recipes. Except for the Stove Top dressing. Mom had me in the kitchen at a young age making fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, pies, mac and cheese, pineapple upside cakes and chicken n dumplings. And cooking was a fun event, not a duty.Because of her, our holidays, birthdays and just-hang-out-for-no-reason times always involve lots of food and lingering around the table laughing and talking.

We cherish family…a lot.

Mom grew up with 7 siblings who she loved and stayed connected to throughout her life. Her sibs were her closest friends. They turned to each other for help, comfort and laughs. After Daddy’s death from a heart attack when she was just 49, Mom’s relationships with other couples waned and my aunts and uncles took even more of a front seat in her life. They argued, disagreed, fussed, gossiped and got angry…but the phone call was eventually made to be reconciled. She was the one who first told my little Joshua and Jaime, “You need to be nice to each other because your friends will come and go but you will have each other for the rest of your lives.”

How many grandmothers do “dress alike” with their 3-year-old grandson? (May 1981, Josh age 3)

A few nights ago when Josh texted Jake at 10 PM wondering why in the world he hadn’t come over the watch a game with him, I smiled.  I reminded him that this is what happens when you grow up in a litter. The puppies love being together. We have Mom to thank for that.

We want to trust God and persevere through trials.

Mom lived a life of suffering and sacrifice. She dropped out of school at age 12 to clean homes to help support the family; raised her youngest brother as her own when she and Dad were just starting their own family; lost several children to miscarriage; worked nights as a waitress to bring in extra money; watched one brother die in a house fire and another to brain cancer; cared for my older brother after he was left paralyzed at age 21 in a swimming accident; lived with chronic pain for most of her life before and after 7 back and neck surgeries; and lost my dad just 8 months after my brother died at age 27.

Yet her smile and veracious commitment to serving others remained through it all. In her early 70’s she accepted a job to be the companion of “an old lady” (of 80) — and

Vacationing in Cape Cod with us in 1996.

came home with funny stories (like the time this dear woman was confused about the Grand Canyon being in New York City). Through pain and declining health she babysat grandchildren, made biscuits and fried apples for whoever was craving them, taught me how to start Thanksgiving prep days in advance, reached out to neighbors with food or help with their own aging parents…without a complaint.

It’s an amazing thing to watch my children mirror the persevering love for God we observed in Mom. As they’ve gotten older, I have brought them in on her story more

Her favorite times were when all her kids and grandkids were together (1988 at Fairfax Covenant Church, Fairfax, VA)

and more. To them, she was Nannie: vibrant, fun, loving, involved, and cheering them on at basketball games (even when Janelle was running down the court about to score for the other team). Because of her faith and joyful trust in God, they knew nothing of her life of suffering. But they did know that she and her sisters climbed up onto the roof of their little house and threw the cat off repeatedly to find it if it would indeed have nine lives.

I have my legacy curriculum. God, by Your grace and power help me to pass on to my people what she passed on to me.

A Sombrero and a Son that can’t Dance

Sometimes it’s good to just stop and laugh. That “good medicine” the proverbs talks about seems far away at times. Recently I realized it’s been awhile since I really, truly laughed. The kind of laugh that wells up deep inside and bubbles out. Loud.

Like Janelle and Eric. For years we teased Janelle (our fifth born) that she must find a man who laughed at least as loud as she does. Our faith was weak…until we met Eric. In fact, one of her brothers said he knew Eric was the one for Janelle the first time he heard him laugh. I was relieved to hear that his laugh was actually louder than hers! In a few weeks we will celebrate a year of hearing them laugh (loud) together.

I’m still waiting for that guffaw to come flowing from my own mouth. I came close on Saturday evening. When I noticed that 22-year-old Jake was dressed in a nice shirt and tie for a friend’s birthday outing, I was surprised. Jake enjoys getting dressed up…but for a birthday party? Hmm….surely his girlfriend, Sarah, had coached him about what to wear. But why?

Then he came out with the sombrero. Yep. That’s him. 12 years ago his oldest brother gave his groomsmen hats like this as a “thanks for being in my wedding” gift. The party Saturday night was at a place that included latin dancing, so Jake hunted down the sombrero to wear with his shirt and tie.

The humor of seeing him in the hat was compounded by picturing him dancing while wearing it. Shhh…it’s a secret. Jake, like the rest of the Phillips kids, can.not.dance. The last thing he needed on a dance floor (which he visits only infrequently) was a huge sombrero to draw attention to the fact that his parents did not begat dancers. (Sorry, kids!)

One of the many things I’ve always loved about being a mom is how entertaining kids are. If you’re a mom, stop and laugh today. And if you would like to share your funniest kid story with me, I’d love to share them here soon. Just post a comment.

Maybe one of your kids will make me laugh…loud.

P.S.  Poor Sarah. I wonder how long the sombrero lasted? I need to find out…