The pumpkin-splattered high chair was where it all began! . My earliest recollections of my son’s baby years are of him sitting in his blue and white high-chair, struggling to feed himself at six months of age. Failing dismally in his attempts, he would, within minutes, cover both himself and the chair with mashed pumpkin. Finding this entire exercise hugely hilarious, he would burst into high-pitched giggles that would make me laugh too. I would watch him keenly for the entire half hour it took him to finish his lunch, and marvel at my baby’s capacity to laugh at his own limitations. It dawned upon me that babies respond instinctively to the funny side of things, making light of many a situation most adults would frown upon. This knowledge went on to become a fundamental part of my journey through motherhood. As the years went by, i would urge my son, and later, his little sisters, to pause in their busy lives not just to smell the roses, but also to enjoy a good hearty laugh.
As my son grew up into the thirteen year old he is today, he recognised many opportunities that provided him with a good old chuckle at himself. The debating contest when he sneezed seven times in a row just as he was about to pitch the concluding remarks….the time he bit into a hard-as-nails pizza baked by his sleep-deprived mother, only to find his wobbly milk tooth fall off during the struggle to chew……all these and many others triggered the tiniest hint of a giggle at first, leading on to full-blown guffaws as the hilarity finally struck.
As he stood on the brink of adolescence, leaving behind forever the wonderful innocence of primary school, his ability to look for humour in any situation was to be tested in new and challenging ways. High school was uncharted territory, bringing with it all that was new and unfamiliar. A hitherto unknown phenomenon called “peer pressure” began to gather momentum, rising gradually to take on epic proportions. Whether it was movie dates with friends or pushing back the bedtime curfew or playing endless Playstation games, the switch from “carefree eleven year old” to “grumpy twelve year old” came with no warning.
Shortly before commencing high school for the first time, my son requested us to get him a mobile phone. Recognising the importance of owning one in today’s increasingly unpredictable world, his dad and I agreed, our only condition being that he would start out with a basic no-frills model. He could upgrade to a better model in a few months time once he had learned to look after his things. Tears and tantrums followed. An outburst of “Why can’t i get the latest smart phone? Everyone else does” was accompanied by a fit of the sulks. I could well understand his annoyance because a smart phone could work clever little miracles. Games, Music, web-surfing…the list was endless. Never before had i felt the generation gap so keenly. It was not affordablitiy that was stopping us from giving our son what he wanted (although the cost involved was rather dear). What was at play here was something infinitely subtle. We found ourselves at crossroads. On one hand, beckoning us, were all the comforts of modern day life which we had missed out on as children. On the other was the menacing danger of “instant gratification”. To want something, and to be granted it, merely by virtue of having wanted it, seemed to be giving my child a false premise upon which to build his expectations from the world around him. It was not something his twelve year old mind could fathom or justify, and it was a very grumpy little boy indeed who started his high school journey that summer morning nearly a year ago.
The first week of high school went by, with my excited “How was your day?” each evening being met with grunts and much shrugging of the shoulders. One evening, a few days later, i happened to be ladling pumpkin soup into large porcelain bowls for dinner. Watching my teenager dip his spoon carefully into the golden mash brought back a rush of memories…..high chair….mashed pumpkin…grubby bib…toothless grin…..I blinked back a sudden sheen of tears. How quickly he had grown up. “How was your day?” i asked almost mechanically, with no hope of being told. To my surprise, he laid down his spoon, wiping his mouth carefully to remove the slightest trace of pumpkin, and said gruffly: “I was the class clown today. The one everyone laughed at”.
The arch of my raised eyebrow formed a silent question. He shrugged and went on. Before the history test, they had to all hand in their mobiles. At the end, the teacher held up each phone in order to return it to it’s rightful owner. “When he held up my….horrible…silly….phone….everyone burst out laughing”…he dragged the words out. I sat down in my usual chair next to him. “And what did you do?” i asked gently, believing that this was too huge a cross for any little boy to bear.
Taking a noisy slurp of his soup, he said”At first, as i walked up to collect it, i was annoyed. Really, really annoyed. But as they kept laughing and as i looked at that horrible phone, i started laughing too. I just could not stop. It wasn’t all that funny, but i just couldn’t stop”. As he said this, his finger slipped and the spoon slid out of his clasp, splattering his cotton shirt with beads of pumpkin soup. Our eyes met as they had so many years ago, him in his high chair, kicking his plump little legs in mid-air as he struggled to feed himself mashed pumkin…me in my flannnel pyjamas, hair messy, eyes bleary from too little sleep, watching my baby in fascinated silence….and the years melted as we burst into tiny giggles at first and then loud laughter, tears of mirth pouring down our faces.
Amidst the giggles, my heart filled up with pride at how my little boy had handled a rather difficult situation. Young though he was, he had mastered an art that many adults find difficult to acquire: the art of laughing at oneself. It takes a big heart to discover the humour even when the joke is turned upon oneself. What made it easy was that he was no longer in uncharted territory. This was the known and the familiar….this ability to laugh when nothing was obviously funny. It went back right down to his baby years when life was simple and uncomplicated and funny when you least expected it to be. As i said before, it was the pumpkin-splattered high chair where it all began!