One of the best things about having children in your life is hearing their laughter. 

There is something about the totally disinhibited, belly shaking laughter of children that’s uplifting to the soul.  Why else do we adults always feel so compelled to tickle them and rumble with them?  And one of the completely unexpected joys of parenting for me has been seeing my child’s sense of humour develop.

Even babies laugh whole-heartedly from a very young age.

Molly is only 9 months old, but Birdy had her in stiches with a peekaboo hiding game on the way home from school last week.

I remember very clearly the first time Birdy made up her own joke. 

She was 18 months old and it took me completely by surprise.  I needed to get some shopping done, but as we drove to the shopping centre Birdy fell asleep in the car.  After waiting half an hour in the car park, she was still dead to the world so I drove back home again. Later that afternoon I attempted to go to the shops again.   Just as we pulled into the carpark for the second time, I turned around to check the back seat and she was dozing off again.  “Caillie – wake up!”  I called in frustration.  Then her mouth broke into a huge smile.  “Tricked ya, Mum!”  Ah ha ha.  She was so pleased with herself.

 Kids seem to go through phases of being quite painful in their humour – there’s the stage where they get obsessed with bodily functions and all things disgusting.

This didn’t last long in our house because my husband has very low tolerance of fart jokes or any kind of reference to bodily functions.  The next stage after that is ‘knock knock’ jokes.  At the age of 4 or 5, they start to get the structure of the ‘knock knock’ joke.  They can do the whole, ‘Knock, knock’, ‘Who’s there?’ sequence, but they don’t get that it’s supposed to be a play on words.  So even more painful than the classic corny ‘knock knock’ joke is the ‘knock knock’ joke that doesn’t actually make sense.

But after the fart jokes and the painful knock-knock jokes comes to ability to laugh at real life and to see the funny side of things that are otherwise ordinary. 

I saw a small example of this recently.  At school all the kids have to do ‘news’.  When we were on holidays in the car, Birdy started amusing herself by doing mock news presentations in a silly voice.  One of them went like this, ‘Good morning KSD.  These are my socks.  They’re really smelly.  I like to call them my smelly socks.”  OK, so it’s not exactly up there with Seinfeld in the observational comedy stakes, but it was a rather apt little send-up of some of the completely banal things kids do for ‘show and tell’ when they’ve run out of ideas and need to make something up at the last minute.

Recently, I met up with a friend of mine who is a comedian.  The thing about these performing types is that behind the funny exterior, they’re often really deep thinkers.  And comedy – at it’s best – can be a way of making sense of the world or of showing that it doesn’t make as much sense as we assume it does.  That is what we do when we send something up.  We are looking at it from a different angle, an angle we had not considered before.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this friend has coped with some terrible setbacks in his life and maintained his good grace and humour.

It is a genuine life skill to be able to see the funny side of things.

Often those things that were the worst disasters to live through make for the funniest stories down the track.  I remember the time I went to hear my favourite author at the Opera House.  I was running late after work, I got this ridiculously slow bus that stopped at every red light and just as I got off the bus it bucketed down.  It was torrential.  I had no umbrella and when I arrived at the Opera House my clothes and my hair were stuck to my skin, they were so wet. Then just as I was going up the steps my high heel snapped off, so I literally had to squeeze past all the well-heeled middle-aged Mosman ladies on one shoe while dripping all over the floor.  But the speaker was hilarious and I laughed so hard that I totally forgot what a drama it had been to get there.  It made me realise: there is something to be said for teaching our kids to face challenges with good humour and to look for the funny side in life.  Even if it means we have to put up with all those terrible ‘knock knock’ jokes in the meantime.

Do your kids make terrible fart jokes and knock-knock jokes that don’t make sense?  Can you remember an incident in your life that was disastrous at the time but funny later?  Do you think a sense of humour helps in life?