Any life event, major or minor, can become a cause of dis-stress. It can be an on-going source of irritation and even victimization. It can also be the beginning of an off-repeated humorous story. Can we take events and turn them into something we can laugh at for decades?
Years ago in a speech I gave on stress to a group of teachers in the U.K. I shared one of the stories my father-in-law told our kids about when he was a kid. Their much loved Grandpa Bert was an easy-going guy, with seemingly not a care in the world who drove my mother-in-law crazy. As a kid he attended a small, rural school.
Now Bert was not a student of academia – in fact he hated sitting in the classroom. During recess while other kids were busy jumping rope or throwing ball, he was busy exploring the tall grass around the little country school, looking for wonderful things such as bugs, worms, caterpillars, frogs – you name it.
One nice warm spring day, he found a cute little baby garter snake. Wow! He was in seventh heaven – really excited. While he was busy enjoying his new discovery, the school bell rang and all the kids ran inside. The teacher, knowing “Bert” would be dawdling, stood at the school door and yelled sharply. “Bert”.
Oh – oh. Now what do I do. He did not want to let the snake go! He wanted it as a pet. He didn’t even consider what his Mom might do when he took it home. But he knew that if he didn’t move fast, he was going to be in big trouble with his teacher! But what should he do? Well he did what every red blooded young boy would do – he stuffed the tiny wiggling snake into the pocket of his jeans and ran into the school.
At first the little snake was content just to lie in this nice warm cozy “nest”. But pretty soon, as little snakes are apt to do, he got restless and began squirming and wriggling. And Bert began to squirm as he tried to keep the snake from slithering out of his pocket. Finally, he did the only thing he could think of to do – he reached inside and took the snake out and held it tightly in his hand.
Well, the curiosity antennas of the astute kids around him went on full alert. “What you got, Bert” and “Let me see” they whispered back and forth. Bert carefully and discreetly gave them a peek when the teacher’s back was turned or when she was looking down at the papers on her desk. But his luck soon ran out as the teacher looked up at him just when he was giving a peek to the kid across the aisle. “Bert, what are you doing”, she bellowed as she got up and marched down the aisle towards him.
“Oh no, I’m in real trouble now – big trouble.” He tried to put the snake back in his pocket, but the darn thing just wouldn’t cooperate. The snake now was just as determined to get away as he was to stuff it. As the teacher approached she demanded in her loudest sternest voice: “Bert! You give me what you have in your hand right now! Oh no, I’m dead meat, thought Bert. What am I going to do?
He did the only thing any rational young man would do. “No”, he said meekly. Upon which she adamantly demanded, “You give me what you have in your hand.” Again he said, “No”, upon which she said, “If you don’t put that in my hand right now I will march you to the principal’s office.”
Well now, he really was in a dilemma. More than experiencing the wrath of his teacher, he was even more afraid of going to the principal’s office. Bad things happened there. Sometimes kids were never seen again – at least for that day!
So, he did what he was told, opened his hand and put the snake in his teacher’s hand. Upon which she screamed and fainted.
And yes, he did end up in the principal’s office – and yes, he disappeared from school for a whole week because he was expelled.
But there is more to the story. The day he returned to school, he was late and came screeching around the corner of the school house on his bike and smack – ran right into his teacher knocking her flat!
We all laughed as teachers could identify with the antics of their students. And I’m sure they remembered times when they were the “Bert’s” in their own teacher’s lives.
As we visualize this humorous story, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves, can we see humor in those difficult and challenging times? As a parent, can we bring humor into our family times together, by being able to laugh at ourselves and see the humor in less than humorous moments? It is not being insensitive or laughing at someone’s misfortunes. It is seeing within ourselves those humorous moments and knowing we can laugh as well as cry.
See the humor in things. Smile! It takes only 13 muscles to smile but it takes 64 to frown. Look for the good things in your challenges. It is a skill we develop over time. It is a lifestyle. And once you start laughing, you won’t want to stop.