Special Needs Sense of Humor, Without Judgement: 6-27-11

What Do “La Cage Aux Folles,” “Priscilla, Queen of The Desert,” “Hair” and “Monty Python” All Have In Common? On the first Monday after New York State legalized same-sex marriage, indeed a time to celebrate difference, it occurred to me that our daughter and many of her special needs friends have the ability to laugh at what is truly funny, absurdist, ironic, different, and slapstick without judgment or conflict.

Explosions Of Laughter: The aforementioned Broadway shows and BBC series are replete with men dressed as women. Both “La Cage” and “Priscilla” touch on the conflicts facing homosexual men in a prejudice society, some of whom are female impersonators, and others mainstream, as in the character of the nightclub owner/businessman and other half of the romantic partnership in La Cage. “Hair” highlights American hypocrisy in a scene in which one of the main characters dresses in the American flag version of Scarlet O’Hara’s southern belle attire. Monty Python’s dowdy matrons shriek in Julia Child-esque voices, have tea and cross the pond to visit “Sartre.” Our daughter roars freely and joyfully at funny scenes while appropriately moved when the humor turns to pathos, as when the lead character in “Priscilla” is frightened to meet his young son for the first time, fearful he will be rejected because of who he is. “Ah,” she whispers to me, as father and son bond and croon gently to each other, “he loves his dad.” She is not worried about this being corny, or unrealistic (as the two had really just met). She embraces the emotion without judgment.

Contagious Humor: Watching theater, movies or television with our daughter over the decades has taught me to enjoy humor without self-consciousness. However, when the New York Times critic panned “Priscilla…” I felt some angst, having bought the tickets before the reviews. When People Magazine panned it as well, I became more uncomfortable. Those tickets were expensive.

Glittered Into Shared Hilarity: Once at the theater, where an avalanche of glitter (glitter lip gloss no less), and “over the top” costuming filled the stage, I could feel my former New York City “superiority” flood me with critical judgments. “Oh, really, this is so…whatever.” The songs are not original, borrowed from an earlier era, and belted out by a Greek chorus a la Supremes-like singers dangling from the ceiling encased in sequins and giant wigs, come on! Yes a spoof of course, but really.

Madcap Hilarity: Really? You bet! Our daughter started to laugh, the audience bellowed and applauded and for the next couple of hours, I joyfully liberated myself from the uptight superiority of former days to share the evening with my best gal. No judgments. No New York relatives wishing it were over sooner. Not because they are prejudice about gays, or female impersonators. Nope, it would be more about the over-the-top aspects, the “Mama Mia” like quality of the show, the lack of subtlety. The hell with subtlety. The performers were top-notch and the unbounded fun of it all wrapped around us in a euphoric cloak of madcap hilarity. With our daughter present, you cannot help but have fun. It is in her DNA!

What Special Needs Parents Learn Best: We learn to find humor wherever we can. If you have a child who is still pooping in their pants at age 8, (not our daughter but it happens) you find some humor. If your child approaches strangers asking them “do you have a dog,” you cover with playful banter (a daily occurrence in our household for years). When your child decompensates at the mall, and they are twelve years old, not two, you utter some tongue-in-cheek remark under your breath, for others to hear,” oh she is a little PMS today” in an attempt to bring some dignity to your self, some composure to the moment, even some respect to your child. At our daughter’s special education boarding school, parents bonded around not just past trials that brought us all to this place, but also the humor in the off-the-wall comments of our kids, their perseverating on the workings of a boiler room, or a hyper-personal inquiry that at its heart was an innocent, good-natured attempt at social dialogue.

Humor Is A Survival Strategy: No one knows that better than the parents of special needs. Our children’s unabashed appreciation for fun, finding the humor in jokes that seem “silly” or unsophisticated to their chronological peers, yet hilarious to them, adds healthy dosages of laughter to the most challenging of days. I have found that when our daughter is with her chronological peers or her brother’s peers, they join in her hilarity. She has unveiled the funny in so much that all of us would otherwise miss, without self-consciousness, or judgment. This is one of the greatest gifts to our family, especially to the mom, who is typically the one on the front lines of the special needs life.

Thanks Dear Daughter: For all the aging lines added by our struggles, subtract them and more for all the laugh lines that you have added to the face and years of my life with you. You rock!

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011

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