I recall my dad, the father of three, telling someone about raising kids. “When you have that first child, you want them to be perfect – everybody’s friend, do well in school and sports – but you eventually realize they can’t be perfect. So, with the second kid, you want him to be a good citizen, healthy and just do his best. By the time number three comes along, you just want them out of the house alive.”
Comedy usually runs in our family, but sometimes it just oozes and festers.
It was comedy that caused me to begin writing about my kids. While other parents are better at recording a child’s first steps and words, I noted our kids’ humorous comments, the best of which seemed to begin when they could first colorfully communicate their thoughts, beginning around the age of three. And Valerie, being at home with them during the day, relayed much of what I recorded. We were so good at it that Valerie would sometimes call me at work, “I had to call you about this one, because I don’t want to forget it…”
Austin: “After everyone dies, does God make more people?”
Trenton: “I want to be a hockey player when I grow up, because you can hit people and you don’t have to say you’re sorry.”
Allison: “This chicken looks like it was marinated in spit, but it tastes good.”
Comedy has an element of truth, and I have often found myself attracted to that which makes us laugh while also causing us to squirm a little uncomfortably. My kids have been around it long enough that they too tend to appreciate the humor in situations where others may feel a bit guilty laughing.
The first Christmas following Trenton’s transplant, Valerie’s mother gave us a gift with a tag that said, “To Valerie and David in honor of Trenton.” Valerie asked, “Are they syringes?”
Large doses of antirejection medicine causes hair growth along one’s forehead, down the neck to the shoulders and further down the arms, and less than two years post-transplant, hairy little three-year-old Trenton was wearing a tank top at Austin’s tee-ball game. Constantly impatient, Trent had wandered away from the game and over to the playground, so I followed him. Another little boy, maybe five years old, saw Trent’s hair growth and asked, “Why is he so furry?” I knelt, pulled Trent toward me and, with my index finger, pulled down slightly on the neck of his tanktop, revealing his scar. “Do you see this line on his chest” I asked. “This is where doctors cut open his chest, pulled out his heart and…” The little boy suddenly lost interest and ran away.
Cancer in late 2011 opened a new, yet still uncomfortable door to humor for us. We were late for an oncology appointment one morning, but (Still) thankfully rush hour traffic had dissipated, allowing me to “have my way” with the speed limit. Valerie expressed, more than once, her fear of being ticketed for speeding, to which Trent suggested, “If the police stop you, just tell them your son has cancer.” And that became our joke for anything that might not go our way.
Make A Wish Foundation grants wishes to kids under the age of eighteen and Trenton qualified by a matter of months. In August 2012, MAW North Texas flew us to Vancouver, B.C. and treated us like royalty. Throughout the experience, from the Fairmont Hotel, to the head chef cooking a seven-course meal, to the limo, the face time with Metallica, and standing as close to the stage as anyone could, I kept reminding Trent, “Dude, you are so lucky getting cancer before you were eighteen years old.”
In March, 2014, Trenton began the first of a handful of Friday night hospital stays to receive a 6-hour IV before returning home Saturday morning. He was checked into a room in Children's and began the less-than-welcomed ritual of being hooked to machines. Trent had come to accept it as normal in his life, but even after nearly two decades of needles, Trent had never gotten used to the next stick. Thus, the following interaction:
Nurse: “What is your religion?” (part of a longer list of prep questions)
Nurse: “Does your religion require any special accommodations while you are here?”
Trenton: “Yes, before you give me any I.V., you are required to sacrifice a goat.”
I admit pride in the way my kids have developed their humor, even the disturbing humor. Following a heart in attack in 2014, Trenton said he had considered taking a selfie in the ambulance, but was afraid the paramedics wouldn’t appreciate it. Then, after spending a few hours in ER, we were told Trenton would be moved to a room in cardiac ICU, but still there nearly two hours later, Trent was getting restless, losing patience. Finally, when the person arrived to wheel Trenton to his room, I teased Trent, asking if he was sure he wanted to leave the ER. He said “Yes, I’ll be back some other time.”
There have been times when humor didn’t fit, or was too much of a struggle to be effective, and the following day was one of those. Following a procedure, Trent arrested and we thought he was gone, and I’m proud to say humor never entered my mind…until we knew he was back. Our minds and bodies at that point were feeling complete exhaustion. I slumped backward onto the couch, feeling my deep breaths in my chest momentarily before glancing at the chaplain, Vance, and asking her, “You don’t have a bar here in Children’s, do you?” Vance replied, “No, but if we did, I’d have a drink with you.”
Later that day, I called family to update them, and felt Austin should be one of the first to know. Austin had recently graduated the University of Oklahoma and remained there to prepare for the CPA exam. I struggled unsuccessfully to maintain my composure as I told Austin about his brother, but told him everything. Austin, put on the spot for a response, and not much of a communicator, said, “Well, I guess it makes studying for the CPA seem like not such a big deal.”
Humor has always been a natural part of our family. Allison’s high school cheer squad suggested she become a standup comedienne; and Austin’s performance review at work included “Austin is good at using humor to lighten a situation.” You can probably tell by now that comedy is one of our coping mechanisms. It helps us fit an overwhelming situation into regular life, hopefully minimizing the feelings of fear. Besides, after all of life’s challenges, it’s important to be still laughing…and still thankful.