"Knock knock," my daughter, Lael, said as we sat down for supper one night.
"Who's there?" I replied.
And with that Lael, age 7, and Joah, age 5, collapsed on the floor, laughing uproariously.
"No, that's not funny, Lael," I explained, once they had found their seats again. For a little while, neither of them took me seriously, because I often say that around the home – frequently to my husband, Sam, who has a very warm place in his heart for jokes that he learned in Grade 5, but mostly to our three children. There are endless things that are just not funny around our house – the full bottle of talcum powder that they used to dye their hair white was particularly not funny, as were the mud-guns that were fired against our kitchen wall. So all in all, Lael and Joah just thought that I wasn't amused.
"No," I explained, "it's not just that I'm not amused; it's that that's not a joke. A joke has to have some kind of twist to it, some kind of play on words. 'Banana head' has neither."
They tried again. "OK, OK, what about this: Knock knock."
"Who's there?" I answered hopefully.
"Orange de Borange."
"I don't want to wish our children's lives away," Sam said to me later," but I can't wait till their sense of humor improves."
"It's not their sense of humor that's the problem, I'm afraid, it's that they actually just don't know what makes up a joke and what doesn't. Is that just their age?"
"Let's wait and see," he said.
A few weeks went by, but after a particularly painful supper time in which the knock knock jokes went from meaningless to ridiculously obscure, I finally said, "Sam, they are not going to get it on their own. You're going to have to teach them. Tell them some jokes and just let them copy you." I went to run the bath. Forty minutes later I heard Sam saying, "OK, this is my last joke for the night."
The next day, Joah said to me, "Mom, do you know the joke about the butter?"
"No," I said.
"I can't tell you, you might spread it."
Lael and Joah fell back in their chairs laughing.
"Yes, that is definitely a joke," I said. "No arguing with that."
"And have you heard the one about the empty house?"
"I can't tell you, there's nothing in it."
They clapped their hands over their mouths in delight.
"And have you heard this one..."
I was just beginning to think that there was something familiar about all these jokes.
"A horse walks into a bar..."
Ah, that was it.
"And the bartender says..."
Thirty years of memories were clearing away.
"What's up with the long face?"
They were distinctly Grade 5.
"Do you get it?" they asked proudly, overjoyed at their newfound skill.
"Is it a joke?"
"Is it funny?"
I was stuck between a husband and a hard place: Should I run the risk of encouraging his sense of humor or crushing my kids'? I made sure Sam wasn't looking, and then quickly nodded my head.