the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Family dynamic

Several weeks ago we were wiling away an early Sunday evening in the living room, the two of us watching the national news while Leta pretended that her Sleeping Beauty Barbie was dead. I got up to clean the kitchen just as America’s Funniest Videos was coming on, and within minutes the laughter erupting from the living room was loud enough to pull me away from a sink full of dirty dishes. I walked over to see what was going on, and there on the couch was a sea of lanky limbs, legs sprawled out on top of each other, two faces frozen in giggling so hysterical that it had crossed over into silence. This is yet another thing Leta inherited from her father, the habit of falling into a fit of laughter so hard that when it happens I don’t know if she’s laughing or dying. And in this instance if anyone had seen her contorted, silent body wedged between two couch cushions I would have had to assure them, no, she’s not dead, she just saw a video of a man accidentally setting his balls on fire.

She calls it The Funny Show, and several times a day she asks how many days until Sunday, how many days until we get to see The Funny Show again. And I’ll be honest, this is thrilling for both of us because we both could sit for hours and watch videos of people crashing their bikes into trees. And now our daughter does, too? You know, I’ve seen countless videos of people swinging bats at piñatas only to miss and hit someone in the crotch, but to sit there and share that moment with my daughter is something entirely different. Especially when she narrates her perspective out loud: “Oh no, oh no… no, no, no…. DON’T DO IT, DON’T DO IT… AHHH! AHHHH! AHHHHHHH! HE FELL OVER! HE FELL OVER! Rewind it! Rewind it! I want to see him fall over again!” Yes, it’s funny because that poor man fell over, not because you could hear his testicles crunching underneath the weight of the blow.

So this has become our Sunday ritual, we all wind down after dinner by watching videos of people disfiguring themselves, and it would be perfect except for the fact that Chuck cannot handle it. For some reason he is distressed by the sound and energy of our collective laughter and will sit in the middle of the floor and shake with anxiety. Usually he only behaves this way when I cough or when Jon and I have a serious discussion, and that only started happening in the months after Leta’s birth when I was a basket case. My postpartum depression scarred him, and if I make the tiniest move where it looks like I’m even thinking about tossing a milk jug at Jon’s head, Chuck will shed his entire coat and go hide in a closet. Turns out you can’t assure a dog that you still love Daddy, it’s just sometimes you experience an irrational, unfounded need to make him bleed.

But our laughter sounds nothing like yelling or arguing, so we have no idea why he will climb up onto the couch in the middle of The Funny Show and physically shove his body between us to try and break up the fun. The only thing I can come up with is that this is just another one of his many neurotic sensitivities, a hunch confirmed by the dog trainer we hired to help us with Coco, someone who boarded both dogs over the Thanksgiving holiday and got to experience Chuck’s neuroses first hand. She’s been training dogs for over ten years and has never before encountered anything so emotionally delicate as Chuck and told us that we’d been having so much trouble with Coco because we’d never before lived with a normal dog. Coco, she said, could let go. Chuck, on the other hand, would remember the kid in first grade who stole his fruit roll-up and then twenty years later open fire in a mall because he was still mad about it.

Coco is a dog. Chuck is a cat. And considering the multitude and nature of things we have put on his head, it will be no mystery if one of us goes missing.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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