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.

  • DaddyScratches

    2009/01/12 at 3:41 pm

    OK, so “The Funny Show” thing is, well, funny … because recently, we were at my mother’s Christmas party, and my 5-year-old son and his 5-year-old second cousin were playing with some action figures and what not, so we left them upstairs playing … and when I went back a short while later they were naked and acting goofy and saying that what they were doing was called “The Funny Show.”

    I quickly slipped into Les Moonves mode and canceled that show.

  • Dana

    2009/01/12 at 3:41 pm

    Not to change the subject, but please tell me you saw this on Kottke:

    I can’t find a bucket big enough to catch the projectile vomit I am now stricken with.

  • April

    2009/01/12 at 3:41 pm

    I love your site. And I was excited to see 0 comments! Could I be the first?

  • Stellare

    2009/01/12 at 3:42 pm

    Dogs and cats and humans all behave in mysterious ways. That’s all I know. 🙂

  • Emily Joyner

    2009/01/12 at 3:42 pm

    I love it. My 2-year-old English Bulldog (Dorsey) sounds an awful lot like Chuck. I’m convinced that no one’s told her she’s a dog!

  • Heather's Garden

    2009/01/12 at 3:43 pm

    I wish we did silent laughter. My family veers into snorting if you really get us laughing hard. My sister loves to make me snort.

  • Zoe, in Ireland

    2009/01/12 at 3:43 pm

    Just wanted to comment because I have never seen your comments under 100 before. And I wanted to say that you are not alone in wondering whether your daughter came out of your womb or not. People have told me, and still do in fact, that I was obviously just the incubator. Good times.
    Oh, and you think being newly pregnant was shitty, try doing it while holding onto a 9 month old and a 2.5 year old. What the hell happened?

  • Nancy

    2009/01/12 at 3:46 pm

    So, this is where my cat’s neuroses ended up…you know – the cat I have who thinks he is a dog? The one who plays fetch, “barks” at the door, begs for treats – but stops short of eating his own poop – thank goodness. I was going to offer to trade – but I think I will just keep the bizarre behavior – identity crisis and all.

  • Robin G.

    2009/01/12 at 3:46 pm

    I think it’s a bit harsh to imply that Chuck’s quirks are shared by all, or even most, cats. There are plenty of non-neurotic cats out there. Not that I own any of them — my three are some of the most bizarrely wired mammals you’ll ever meet in your life — but I have met a few and they’re perfectly fine. Neurosis is as neurosis does.

    And if Coco is like a normal dog, I think I’ll stick with cats, all things considered.

  • Lady K

    2009/01/12 at 3:49 pm

    I will sit on the couch with hubbie and watch the funny show and cry with laughter….and then fall into fits of silent laughter. While crying. He just sits there and watches me. Rolling his eyes.

  • Joey

    2009/01/12 at 3:49 pm

    Oh, Chuck. At least he’s got a steady hand with the eyeliner.

  • Chuk

    2009/01/12 at 3:49 pm

    We just got a standard Australian Shepherd puppy. We only had cats before. She does this all day (well, during the parts of the day when she isn’t trying to chew on my everything):

    Our brains are going to explode.
    I may need the name of your dog trainer.

  • Anonymous

    2009/01/12 at 3:49 pm

    My daughter loved that show too except she called it “America’s FUN videos”.

    Poor Chuck.

  • d3 voiceworks

    2009/01/12 at 3:49 pm

    I’m posting mostly because I’m in the top 10–whoa!–and because I wonder sometimes if I might love my dog Fozzie more than my people (family).

  • Bush Babe

    2009/01/12 at 3:49 pm

    Thank the Lord. I though MY kids were the only ones rivetted into soundless hysterics by Funniest Home Videos. Dash will NOT let me change the channel when even the most DISTURBING clips are on. Neither will my husband.

    The whole Chuck thing is interesting… I don’t have a house pet (anymore) but our Great Dane hated it when we “debated” and would come and stand directly between us. Hard to maintain the higher ground when one is being leant on by an 80kg dog…

  • d3 voiceworks

    2009/01/12 at 3:51 pm

    Well, I thought I was in the top 10 but between writing and hitting ‘submit’ I got bumped.

    Still love my dog just as much, though. 😉

  • kim at allconsuming

    2009/01/12 at 3:53 pm

    I’m commenting solely because I’ve never EVER been in the tens – only the 100s and normally the 1000s if I comment here.

    I love you all, even if you are dog lovers.

    That is all.

  • LA in OK

    2009/01/12 at 3:53 pm

    Thanks #11… I’ve wondered if that really WAS eyeliner on Chuck on occasion, or if it was just the lighting!

  • dessessopsid

    2009/01/12 at 3:53 pm

    Is just good to know that someone else has a dog that is so very cat like too…

  • Cindy

    2009/01/12 at 3:55 pm

    I love AFV too! I sometimes laugh so hard I cry or can’t breath…thankfully we have dvr so we can pause while I catch my breath back up to normal (or go to the bathroom, if you know what I mean). 🙂

    I’m so happy you all love the show too…the fact that Leta narrates the happenings makes me smile – a lot.

    Poor Chuck – please hug him when he’s so stressed. Or give him earmuffs.

  • Becki

    2009/01/12 at 3:56 pm

    AFV is one of our family’s favorite shows too. Although, for the past 3 years I’ve been trying to get my daughter to call it AFV. But she seems to prefer “America’s Homest Funniest Homest Videos.”

    We’ve got a very neurotic dog too – she does the same thing. She sits in front of the TV facing us and shakes and wears an expression of severe torture. You’d think that, with every guffaw, we were beating her severely. When my dad is around her, he yells “Why can’t you act like a normal dog? Just be a dog.”

  • Solarjoles

    2009/01/12 at 3:57 pm

    If it makes you feel any better, Dino, my 90lb Dobie, shakes with anxiety too. All the time. Especially when there are cats around, since he knows he’s not allowed to chase them, but they are SOOOO tempting.

    It’s better than the licking, though…the constant licking of his back leg until it bleeds. I have to promise everyone that no, I don’t abuse my dog, he just needs more Valium.

  • Lori

    2009/01/12 at 3:57 pm

    My son (5) also calls it “The Funny Show”! I have to admit that it is one of our Sunday evening staples and I am frequently laughing so hard that I’m crying. It freaks my dog out too and I think I may have discovered the answer. On the National Geographic Channel there was recently a program entitled “In the Womb: Dogs” at one point they mentioned that dogs with red hair are more like to worry and be easier to upset. Guess what I have… a red haired labradoodle.

  • Ronna

    2009/01/12 at 3:59 pm

    Sounds a lot like my dog. Chuck isn’t part Chihuahua is he?

  • Britte S.

    2009/01/12 at 3:59 pm

    My dog, Major, is a lot like Chuck. He was badly abused as a pup and I rescued him when he was 6 months old. He’s almost 2 now and is finally over the majority of his fear of feet. We still have bags, newspapers, boxes, anything that resembles a bat when rolled up, and Ramen noodles to conquer (I’m not sure how that fear came about, but god forbid I take out a packet of Ramen noodles in his presence). He actually looks a lot like Chuck if Chuck was chocolate coloured and had a Bubba (from Forest Gump) like underbite.

    My family and I are very very careful to stay away from him when we argue because otherwise he’ll go into shakes and try to either shove his body between the people arguing or he’ll try to shove himself under the couch. Although funny to watch, it breaks my heart to know he’s get affected by it that badly.

  • Marshall

    2009/01/12 at 3:59 pm

    Have you introduced Leta to “Jackass” yet?

  • Kristan

    2009/01/12 at 3:59 pm

    “Emotionally delicate”? Did you tell her you write about Chuck online for millions of people to read? Because I’m willing to bet a therapist would blame you, so maybe a dog trainer would too. 😛

  • Jewels

    2009/01/12 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you for the laughter.

    Your humorous account of Chuck’s behavior reminds me of my dog Scooter.

    Scooter was a german shepard/cocker spaniel, you think Chuck’s got issues. My dog looked like a minature german shepard but thought she was a lap dog. Had the brain power of a cocker spaniel and would kill birds, bring them into the house and never sit still. She was an odd dog.

    I’m definitely impressed that you are able to get Chuck to sit still long enough to balance a myriad of things on his head.

  • Christine

    2009/01/12 at 4:00 pm

    OMG.. our pup acts just like Chuck. We call Ollie our “emo son” mainly because he doesn’t believe he’s a dog. Once our daughter was born, the emo factor increased ten-fold. Our favourite is his ability to learn and copy baby by crying — in an overly-dramatic way–in order to get our attention. And if the 3 humans are having a good time, he’ll come over all sad and pitiful looking and then is sure to position himself between the 3 of us. Or he’ll sit on the baby as much as he can without getting in trouble (i.e. without crushing her. he’s a standard schnauzer — heavy, but too heavy). His life must be rougher than we thought b/c having a bed in our bedroom, going to dog camp, taking a part in my walks with baby every day and going to the dog park just isn’t enough.

    Ahhh… but we love our furry, 4-legged children.

  • Kristan

    2009/01/12 at 4:01 pm

    RE: Britte S from comment #25-
    I’m so sorry your dog was abused (seriously, that’s horrendous) BUT OMG RAMEN?! We can agree that’s hysterical, right?

    Maybe he’d prefer another brand — Cup Noodle, perhaps? ;P

  • K Van D

    2009/01/12 at 4:04 pm

    1. If there was a cult dedicated to AFV, I’d be a charter member and you could always count on me for the Kool-Aid.

    2. Our daughter Mad (1 yr) has already started laughing at any video that includes a baby. As long as it isn’t her. That freaks her out.

    3. Our dog Zoie barks incessantly as I laugh hysterically because I am pretty sure she is trying to help keep my blood pressure down. That doesn’t necessarily help.

    4. I am 19 weeks pregnant with our 2nd little girl. I laugh so hard I pee. Even if I just peed…and my husband thinks this is funnier than the “Funny Show” could ever be.

  • Jonnelle

    2009/01/12 at 4:07 pm

    That poor cat/dog!!! My cat thought he was a dog and he would chase me around and “bark” at new people. I miss that cat. But congrats on the baby! And now there will be 4 lanky people on the couch having laughing fits on Sundays! Chuck may just start hiding under the couch like a cat.

  • Lizzy

    2009/01/12 at 4:09 pm

    When cats, and apparently Chuck, fill out worksheets on Career Day, all signs point to Postal Worker. I know this because I have two cats and I see the way they look at me.

  • Folake Kuye Huntoon

    2009/01/12 at 4:09 pm

    This is hilarious, because it is a ritual for my family to watch this show on Sundays too. My husband, 10yr old son, and 16mth old daughter all sit to watch it, but the only problem is that while we are laughing, my little daughter is crying and acting like Chuck 🙂 Instead of joining in in the laughter, she actually gets frightened. She mistakes the screams and laughter for arguing and crying?!?! Still baffles us too.

  • Helen

    2009/01/12 at 4:11 pm

    My aunt’s dog (little brown poodle) was fine if either my aunt or my uncle was in the room, but if they were both in the room at the same time, she hid under the table. Intelligent dog.

  • jane

    2009/01/12 at 4:11 pm

    My husband and I watch that show and laugh like buffoons, only in my house I’m the one gasping and saying, “Rewind it!” Our son is 4 months old and I can’t wait to enjoy it with him; he seems to think my husband is hilarious (apparently mom has to work on her material a bit more) so I’m hoping he shares our sensibility! Thanks for giving me another thing to look forward to with the baby.

  • Anonymous

    2009/01/12 at 4:12 pm


    Just wanted you to know, I dig, dig, dig your blog. We’re not a worlds funniest home video family, however my son cannot get enough of anything Indiana Jones. He hums the theme song twenty four/seven. We’re a dog family. Two of them. Huge galumphing dogs. Sometimes I think I should just move out of my own bed the way everyone/thing piles on. Check out my blog:


  • Emily

    2009/01/12 at 4:14 pm

    My kids and I watch The Funny Show every afternoon (at 5:00 Eastern). We laugh until our sides hurt, and I can’t tell you how much good it has already done for us.

    My dogs don’t hate it, though. They’re used to us behaving like morons.

  • Adrienne

    2009/01/12 at 4:18 pm

    Poor Chuck.
    And thank god we never had a dog growing up. (Although, I did have two gerbils, one named Chuck as a matter of fact.) My little brother would laugh so hard and loud at AFHV that we thought he would have a stroke at the ripe old age of six. My other brother and I didn’t think the show was funny, but the insane laughter, *that* was funny.

  • steph

    2009/01/12 at 4:19 pm

    You know that part when they paste the host’s head onto other peoples bodies? That part scares the crap out of my 2 year old son. He turns to me, climbs up on my lap and burries his head. I still watch the show though.

  • Denise

    2009/01/12 at 4:19 pm

    Poor Chuck. Your dogs sound exactly like mine only with the sexes reversed. We have a 9 year old female neurotic red mutt and a 2 year old little boy aussie. Our red dog will run and hide when we raise or voices and shakes uncontrollably in a car, around loud noises etc. We blame the hubbies mormon mother on the neurosis though 🙂

  • Larissa Gaston

    2009/01/12 at 4:21 pm

    I still love Chuck – even if he is a neurotic mess.

  • Anonymous

    2009/01/12 at 4:21 pm

    My Rot/Lab cross is wary of all small rodents. She’s not afraid, I don’t think, just would rather not have the little balls of fur trying to sniff her feet.

    It’s fun to stick the dog and two guinea pigs into a small space and watch the dog fidget. I’m a nice person, really.

  • Anonymous

    2009/01/12 at 4:21 pm

    Chuck is delightful.
    I have a labrador who acts like that.
    It might be Chucks neurotic labrador retriever roots showing.

  • Heather G.

    2009/01/12 at 4:22 pm

    So, affection for crotch shots and bike crashes aside, our daughters could definitely be friends, or 85 year old convalescent home frenemies trapped in 5 year old bodies. If I am not forced ‘to attend a barbie funeral, or risky amputation with rusty scissors, I am role-playing as a husband while she announces her new-found pregnancy. How do you appropriately respond when your 5 year old daughter exclaims, “Honey, I’m pregnant. Aren’t you excited?”

  • Alicia

    2009/01/12 at 4:23 pm

    My four year old also loves it and calls it “Silly Things”. Those two remind me much of each other, Leta and Jack. It must be the four thing and the neurotic thing (and the reading obsession, and the crazy eating habits…)

  • The Furry Godmother

    2009/01/12 at 4:23 pm

    Poor sensitive Chuckles!

    If my husband raises his voice for, say, a football game, one of our pups, The Zali Lama, will saunter over to him and give him a full on head tilt, movie star smooch.

    We’re all dysfunctional. We’re over it.

    Congrats on the team expansion!

  • Jen

    2009/01/12 at 4:24 pm

    I love America’s Funniest Home videos. And you’re right, it’s funny to watch alone, but when you find someone to watch it with, it’s even funnier!

  • Jill

    2009/01/12 at 4:24 pm

    I have a neurotic dog AND a psychotic cat, and a six year old boy who has loved the Funny Show since he was three. Now if only I can get him to quit hitting himself in his crotch, as he thinks it’ll make him a tv star…

    thanks for your blog – you rock!

  • Jack and Jill Put Up A Blog

    2009/01/12 at 4:27 pm

    My dog has a very similar sensitive manner. If I clip his nails, he doesn’t want me to touch/cuddle him for a week or more. Or if something scarred him at a point of our walk, he will remember the spot and skitter around it. He ran into a rattle snake a few months back, and still thinks every stick or mud clump is a rattle snake. Ohhh, our sensitive little guys…it doesn’t help that this kind of sensitive dog makes it even easier to humanize him…It can’t be helped.

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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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