It was a normal Wednesday afternoon when my friend Cathy embarked on the afternoon school run. A busy evening of back-to-back activities lay ahead. She pulled up outside the school and sat in the car with her younger daughter waiting for the older one to appear. Without guile, her daughter, looked up and asked, 'Mummy, do you think you will be a better granny than you are a mummy?'
I too have experienced moments like that - moments when our child's unwitting comments seem to suck all the air from our lungs.
In a gracious reply, Cathy asked what her daughter meant and listed all the many things she did as her mum. The CV was impressive: providing a taxi service, cooking meals, helping with music practice and homework, washing, ironing, braiding hair ... and so it went on.
When she finished, her daughter nodded. 'I know that,' she replied. 'It's just that we just don't seem to have much fun.' Cathy admitted to me when she told me the story that her daughter was right. Her family's busy schedule of activity meant there was little time for fun and laughter together.
The primary years can be some of the busiest and most challenging. Younger children in the family may have gifted us with the legacy of sleepless nights - add to that the physical exertion required to parent children in the daylight hours: driving them to ballet, swimming, football and drama classes, helping with homework and dealing with discipline - and it should be no surprise that sometimes a triple espresso or an energy drink is the only way we feel able to get through the day.
If we are working outside the home, this season often coincides with the very stage in our career when our work requires 110% of our focus and attention. For others, redundancy and unemployment leads to the intense pressure of seeking work and managing to make ends meet. Life can be hard. As well as all the ordinary things that are part of the deal of managing a home - kitchens to clean, meals to cook, shirts to iron, bills to pay - we may also have other challenges such as relationships under pressure, parenting alone, elderly parents to care for, illness or disability in the family, multiple births or children with additional needs. Somehow the relentlessness of life can take over and we go into survival mode.
The writer of the book of Proverbs wrote that 'A cheerful heart is good medicine' and, 3,000 years later, science agrees. Laughter is good for us. Research shows that when we laugh, the tissue that lines our blood vessels expands. This increases blood flow and improves the health of our arteries. Researcher Michael Miller told New Scientist that a healthy lifestyle would include not only 30 minutes of exercise three times a week, but 15 minutes of hearty laughter each day.
Press the pause button on the treadmill of activity and take time to laugh and have fun together. My husband is much better at this than me. I remember one 'sleep over' party (another misnomer!) for a large number of ten-year-old boys. No sleep had taken place and it was now the small hours of the morning. Not only was I tired but I was imagining the wrath of Mrs Bishop descending on me the following morning when I returned her son Ned to her minus his obligatory eight hours sleep. My entreaties for the boys to quieten down had (unsurprisingly) fallen on deaf ears. Moreover Richard seemed to be ignoring the commotion and to add insult to injury had begun to snore. My exasperation boiled over and I woke him up and kicked him out of bed with a request to instil some discipline and some sleep to the occupants of George's bedroom. He obligingly turned the light on and set off down the corridor. However instead of a descending calm, the noise level increased by 100 decibels plus - armed with a giant Super Soaker water pistol he had crept into the room through a trap door from the roof space and begun the biggest water fight imaginable. The shouts and screams could be heard for miles! The boys may not have had their quota of sleep - and Mrs Bishop was as cross, as I feared - but amidst much hilarity and laughter the boys enjoyed a party to remember! Let's not take ourselves too seriously.
Laughter can be about the smallest things - practical jokes, a plastic spider in the bed, funny stories at the meal table, hide and seek in the dark, watching a comedy film and even a water fight at 2am. Take time to laugh and have fun.
Laughter really is the best medicine.
(Extract taken from If You Forget Everything Else Remember This: Parenting in the Primary Years)