When Spider-boy was little he didn’t smile a lot. I used to think, in the dead of night, it was my fault for not smiling enough when he was tiny, a dread fear that I’d broken him by crying too much on my maternity leave. I’ve been persuaded he just had a bit of ‘tude, and liked people to work for his affection.
Now he’s a clown. The last great toddler comedian. My better half has taught him the s-word. ‘Mummy’ he said the other week. ‘Let’s play slapstick’ and with that threw himself to the kitchen floor. This weekend he and his Father spent hours coming up with his first good joke. ‘Mummy’ they ask, all shared scampiness, ‘Why is Spider-boy’s bottom SO naughty?’ ‘I don’t know…’ I say, knowing I’ve been set up. ‘Because it is SO cheeky’ they scream and fall about on the sofa.
Last night my husband and I lay in bed, the newborn snoring softly in between us, and laughed at an old joke. It started as a joint smirking at a stupid internet thing but it grew into glorious, ridiculous, unaccountable hysteria.
Grown ups giggling in the dark. Whisked back to the mattress we sometimes slept on in our first (shared) house. So unbridled were we last night we were briefly uncaring about waking the for once sleeping baby.
What was it over…? I’m not exactly sure. To explain the joke I’d have to understand it better myself although it felt one part being tickled by a ludicrous tie in toy for Titanic, and thirty parts making up for a couple of years where laughing has mostly followed tears, forming the shrug off, getting us out of the dark. There has been lots of fun in daylight hours, Spider-boy has seen to that as he’s found his voice, but in our midnight peals there was an echo of a more carefree, joyful existence which made me feel sad on waking and remembering. It made me scared, just for a second, that I am too broken to pass on any proper joie de vivre to my boys.
But even I couldn’t be sad for that long as laughing is a good feeling. Loud, unbridled, snorting, embarrassing laughter, shaking us into squeaking tears.
Later this afternoon, in the kitchen, I was playing with the littlest. He’s four months old and has started to engage with everything. Inanimate objects, voices he recognises, people, songs. He lectures his reflection, follows his brother’s every move, bats away toys again and again. And as he does all this I watch, praying both my lads develop a capacity for larks, and joy, and happiness and singing hearts.
I kneel down at his level, smile and bob my head. His makes a yak yak sound. A primal giggle fizzing through a huge, sticky, toothless grin. I smile again and make an encouraging noise. The laughter bubbles, the volume grows. A pattern of nodding and smiling and looking into each others’ eyes begins, and I felt like repeating it forever. We last over 20 minutes, he and I. One laugh tumbling into another, the brief anticipation almost as funny as the joke. Bantering. Riffing. Playing.
The phone rings and I kiss his forehead. For a moment as I skip to pick it up I think I can congratulate myself. I am funny Mummy, I can create this atmosphere, this lightness, this fun. As I lift the handset I hear another laugh. The boy has seen a static tea towel hanging over a chair. It moves almost imperceptibly in the draft. He cracks and spurts with laughter.
A tea towel? A tea towel! I am put in my place. But fleeting indignation is nothing on the real moral here. I don’t have to search out his smile. Firstly, he’s a second child, he rewards any attention he gets. And second? This is good, as who knows if he will be a happy soul for all time, but for now I can rejoice that he’s showing willing.