Art Linkletter may have thought kids say the darnedest things. My money’s on the grownups.
Parents say the most inane, irrational things. And we do it with such assurance and authority that we believe our own bluster.
She told my youngest brother, when he asked about female anatomy, that breasts were muscles, which led him to believe she was stronger than the Hulk – and way more powerful than the puny men in our family, who lacked her impressive pecs.
My dad, when pushed to his limit, would warn that someone was ‘cruising for a bruising,’ or asking for a ‘knuckle sandwich.’
Now, before you get all Oprah on me, let me assure you: my father was the gentlest of men, kind and caring beyond measure. There was never any delivery or follow-through to his threats. A cup of joe or a Genesee cream ale usually restored his sense of calm. We had, with great gusto, exhausted his patience. And he, with great restraint, let us live to see another day. His reprimands were a throwback … a bit of Al Pacino swagger … an echo of earlier generations of loud and scrappy Irishmen who had passed along nothing more cross than the ginger hair gene.
The one threat that did stop me in my tracks, though, was the ultimate and almighty killjoy moment, when he would intone that ‘laughing leads to crying.’
In his defense, my brothers and I (mostly my brothers) were probably engaged in some type of raucous, Kool aid-fevered behavior: swinging from the garage rafters … wildly tossing Jarts (remember those hugely over-sized darts that somehow became an acceptable lawn amusement for kids?) … two of the three torturing one of the three (mostly me). All were activities that made us hoot hysterically.
Sometimes, all we had to do was recount earlier hijinks until we achieved the nirvana of juvenile humor – laughing so uncontrollably that milk squirted from our snorting noses.
So yes, tears, choking, shattered décor – and decorum – did occasionally result from our laughter.
Following that flimsy thread of logic, ‘laughing leads to crying’ seemed a reasonable admonition. I was a believer – a time-out chair witness to the after-effects of maniacal merriment.
Until I heard myself repeat it to my own monkey children.
‘Laughing leads to crying,’ I said when a rainy-day game of Monopoly turned to mayhem (Do not judge: Hurdled with sufficient force, those tiny metal top hats and thimbles can do serious damage.)
‘Laughing leads to crying,’ I said when I caught them tossing Heimlich-inducing volumes of Skittles into one another’s mouths.
‘Laughing leads to crying,’ I said, when they were on the verge of splitting their sides, impaling their skulls with game tokens, and choking to death on Wild Berry pellets of sugar and hydrogenated palm oil.
I am not proud. But let me tell you: ‘laughing leads to crying’ is a show stopper … a buzzkill of monumental proportions. I had managed to stop fun in its tracks, on the spot.
The rest felt like slow motion:
The puzzled looks of my suddenly angelic children.
The sitcom-style doubletake of my husband/monkey daddy, who recoiled as if watching a scene from Mommie Dearest.
My own sputtering, grasping attempt at redemption.
But it was out there … airborne … achieving its intended effect. Silence.
And a solemn turning of wheels in young minds – and mine. If laughing leads to crying, then what other good and happy things lead to bad and crappy ends? Do cuddles lead to scratches and scars? Do puppies lead to ogres? Does love lead to hate? And what about life? Does life lead to death? (Um … let’s table that for another rainy day – or a floating goldfish).
‘Laughing leads to crying.’
I had gone dark. At my wit’s end, I had unwittingly summoned my ancestral language: a coda of menacing, meaningless non sequiturs.
‘Stop that crying – or I’ll give you something to cry about!’
‘Wipe that silly grin off your face!’
‘This is why we can’t have anything nice!’
‘If you break your leg don’t come running to me!’
‘Don’t make me stop this car!’
‘If you bother me again, someone better be bleeding!’
Why is it that all of the adages that survive and spew from our lips so violent? Why do we say things like ‘I’m going to skin you alive!’ or ‘That does it, we’re selling you the gypsies!’ or ‘I’m going to count until three and then…’?
Maybe it’s because we were reared on a steady diet of Grimm’s fairy tales.
Maybe it’s due to second-hand smoke, riding without seatbelts, pedaling bikes without helmets or supervision.
Perhaps the wooden spoon left splinters in our brain – as well as our hineys.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s ‘because I said so, that’s why!’
Lucinda Trew writes and laughs (usually without crying) in a horsey suburb of Charlotte, N.C. She enjoys life with her two grown children, jazz musician husband, two dogs and a cat whom she believes to be a secret agent. Her work has previously been published in BluntMoms, The Mighty, Charlotte Viewpoint and Vital Speeches of the Day. http://www.trewwords.com.