When I was a classroom teacher, I was often plagued with the most bizarre occurences. Random moments when I’d wonder if that really just happened. Funny moments, really. The English major in me knows that this particular humor is brought about by incongruity or “a conjunction of opposite or unexpected situations in a way that evokes humor.”
Like the one time I found a pair of pants on the floor of my classroom and had to hang them up on the chalkboard with an arrow that asked, “Whose pants are these?”
Or the time I rewarded a class with a party for winning a canned food drive, and I passed around a sign-up sheet for the food list, but when it came back to me, it only listed three items: “omelets,” “Jagerbombs,” and “Oreos.”
Or the time I found a stunning drawing in my own image left on the dry-erase board after class. The incongruity of a kindergarten-compatible drawing penned by a high-schooler.
Or of course the subtle humor of some pimply-faced adolescent scribbling “Shakespeare sux” in the margins of MacBeth. Because that kid certainly knows enough to claim such a thing.
The list goes on. Whether they mean to or not, kids are funny people when they aren’t driving you insane.
And I kind of thought those sorts of bizarre and humorous moments were present in my life because of my daily interactions with 150 high-schoolers, but now that I am home with a toddler, it’s a daily occurence again. I mean as I write this, there is a roll of toilet paper in our downstairs hallway; watercolor paints, a tape measure, and a random cord on my dining room table; and alphabet letters thrown in to a pan with a wire whisk resting on my kitchen floor. And I do clean the clutter occasionally, I assure you. But the randomness follows me everywhere, I swear. Incongruity at its finest. Just this morning I found Jude pushing a hand-me-down pink baby doll stroller with a serving spoon buckled in where the baby ought to be.
Like the pleading eyes of my poor dog juxtaposed with the joy on Jude’s face when he forces her to submit to some play time. For all their annoyances, these dogs put up with a lot from us.
Jude also got a harmonica in an Easter basket, and he stumbles around playing the blues like some troubled old homeless war vet or something. And I don’t know what it is about that scenario, but it cracks me up. Someone who knows nothing of trouble in the world and fills his days munching on cheese crackers now spends his time staring aimlessly out a window and playing the blues.
He’s also discovered that his favorite word is “cheese,” only he says it with this high-pitched and desperate “sheeeeeeeese” that you can hear a mile away. And he asks for “sheese” at least five times a day, typically when it is not mealtime or snacktime, but the thought has graced his mind and he comes racing and pleading to me.
The “sheese” face is half-cute and half-scary. Yesterday we were reading a book about a runaway sheep, and he jumped up from our cozy spot on the sofa, screamed “sheeeeeeeese” and ran to the refrigerator door. Must. Have. Cheese. NOW. The hilarity of screaming CHEESE at various moments throughout the day is not lost on me.
Incongruity at its finest.
I mean even toddler temper tantrums, painful though they are, are examples of this. When the fretful moment has passed and I regain sanity to really think about what has just happened, I laugh a little remembering that handing someone the yellow crayon instead of the blue one he was grunting for resulted in flailing on the floor. Next time I ask Scott to pick up something at the store and he forgot it, I think I’ll respond the same way. You forgot coffee creamer? OH MY GODDDDD, the horror!
My three-year-old niece is staying with us a couple of days a week, partly to help my sister out with childcare and partly to have a playmate for Jude. I love watching all her delicate little mannerisms and girly habits after spending time with my rowdy boy. But then she plays her favorite game which is to “be a yion” as she says. Or growl like a scary lion. So here we are with this blue-eyed girly-girl making a loud, guttural growl and trying really hard to make a mean face. Incongruity at its best.
And I’m realizing toddlerhood might be the funniest source, but it isn’t the only source of incongruity in my life. I’m full of some contradictions as well.
As of last week, I am grinding my own grain in the kitchen and baking all of my family’s bread, yet I still love my cupcakes and can’t stay no to another cup of coffee or a margarita.
I’ve had major issues accepting television as part of our daily routine around here, and I tend to take it too seriously as a drain on a little brain’s budding intelligence, yet I adore the beautiful half hour I spend in the kitchen every evening before dinner when “Backyardigans” sing happily in the next room.
I revisit Blake and Shelley like old friends and ache for books in such a tangible way, yet I have been plowing through the same novel for weeks and know much more about Seuss than Renaissance drama at this point in my life.
Today I long to hit the road with my nomadic little family and jump at any opportunity that would have us moving and leave Jude learning on the canvas of some foreign city, but the next day I’ll decide I need to deepen some roots right where we are and my rocking chair on the front porch is all the exploration I need.
I think there was a time when I viewed these incongruities as something I needed to fix or make a decision about, but as I get older, I’m learning to accept them for what they are. I can do pretty much anything I want, just not everything I want. Or not all at the same time. And sometimes that leaves me with one foot in and one foot out, straddling some fence and trying desperately to throw the other leg over. And, students, since this has been a lesson on incongruity, I’ll leave you with a literary quote from a wise Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.” For now, I love my multitudes.