I use a lot of irony, mostly in the form of feigned ignorance, to help me stay calm with the kids. It’s my private joke, a place inside me that’s mocking my children, and they don’t seem to get it. I know I’m being mean, like teasing a dog, but it’s so much better than screaming at them.
Kids are so literal, despite their wide-open imaginations. Kids love “opposites” games, but my sense is that they don’t really understand the humor of irony. It’s the silliness of imagining daddy with his underwear on his head instead of his butt that gets them rolling on the floor. Or it’s a fun oppositional thing to do things like smile after mom yells “I DON’T WANT TO SEE A SINGLE SMILE ON YOUR FACE TODAY!” I can’t wrap my head around it quite right, but I feel like there’s a difference between that and irony.
I rely on feigned ignorance — I love the sound of those two words together — in situations where I used to get really frustrated, sometimes enraged (always inappropriately), by Jesse or Nick heckling me with repeated questions. When I use irony, they’re the ones who get pissed off instead. That makes me feel good all over.
Nick hates it. If he asks me for the hundredth time in an hour if he can play with the iPad, I might answer, “oh. I didn’t know you wanted to play with the iPad.” I work on acting a little surprised, slightly out of touch.
“YES YOU DID, MOMMY!” He’ll yell back.
“No I didn’t.”
“YES YOU DID! I aaaaasked you.”
“No you didn’t.”
“I DIIIIID, mommy!!!”
“Really? I don’t remember that.”
“YES YOU DO! WAAAAAAH.”
Whatever. Score one for mom.
This morning before the drowsies had all worn off, I was rolling around in bed with—
I wish I was about to say “Anthony.” Sometimes it feels hopeless. I met a delightful woman from Virginia some years ago when Jesse was about 2. This mom had shared a family bed with her kids, who were now adults. We chatted about nursing and co-sleeping, and the pressure our culture applies to end those practices much sooner than I wanted to. She encouraged me to stay the course and ignore everything but my own heart, to treasure this and be patient (apply your best southern accent): “I guarantee you, when Jesse is 21, she will NOT be breastfeeding and she will NOT be sleeping in your bed.” She had a healthy long view of things.
Right. What? Oh, so I was rolling around in bed with Jesse and Nick. You know the drill — snuggle, tickle, hug, jump on mommy and crack her spine, etc. Jesse flopped on her back, relaxed and said, “So mommy. I really want to go back to little Grandma’s house.”
GGGGAAAH I’ve had to listen to some version of that every fracking day since before we even left California. It’s literally the first thing Jesse brings up with me every morning (until today), and then all day long until she closes her eyes to sleep. I’m hearing about this at least 30 times a day, no exaggeration, and lots of different versions, including proposals for travel dates. Jesse has been using her full emotional range as well. I’m being heckled.
Today I felt the demons awaken inside me. I fought them down. I took a breath and I answered Jesse sleepily, trying to sound as earnest as possible. “Really? I didn’t know that.” I prepared myself for irritability, whining, a challenge to my memory, all the things that empower me instead of her in these strange battles.
There was a moment of silence as I stared out the window at the rising sun, and then from next to me I heard an easy-going, grown-up chuckle. Jesse was laughing WITH me at my private joke. She got it. We murmured about it as we smiled. I didn’t know an 8 year old could grasp irony. Awesome.
But now I’m having mixed feelings about this. Watching children mature is a magical thing, and I love it. But Jesse has just taken away a really important device in my quest for sanity. It won’t be as fun anymore, since she gets it. Now what am I going to do when she drives me crazy?
You will enjoy the irony and joke together. It will be fun in a different way.