By Lisa Smith Molinari
During challenging times, people will often say, “It’s okay to cry.” We know that in order to overcome sadness, frustration, and even anger, we can’t bottle up these uncomfortable emotions. The well-known sentiment is intended to give permission for one to cry openly without fear of judgement or reproach.
But what about laughter?
People also say, “laughter is the best medicine” yet at the same time, we are expected to act appropriately in the face of suffering and hardship. Apparently, there is a fine line. I hate fine lines because I tend to cross them. If we make the wrong joke at the wrong time, we are relegated to being …DUN DUN DUN… inappropriate.
Certainly, I have been known to shed my share of tears. When my husband, Francis, was deployed for a year back when our kids were little, I had to manage the kids, the dog, the house, the yard, the bills, the in-laws — you know the drill. I would collapse on the couch on Friday nights with a glass of cheap wine and bag of microwave kettle corn to watch an episode of an intense docuseries that was sure to make me cry. When it did, I’d embrace the moment with an all-out snotty blubberfest, complete with an ugly cry face.
I’d wake up the next morning feeling somewhat refreshed and ready to face another week of deployment. However, weekly crying wasn’t an effective long-term strategy. By the seventh month of the deployment, I was drowning in the endless minutia of managing our home and family alone. My head swam with rational and irrational fears. Will the neighbors call the police because my kids left their scooters in the cul de sac? Did I pay the water bill? Are my teeth turning yellow? Am I an awful parent for serving mac and cheese three nights a week? Does my bunco group talk about me behind my back? Am I using the right sugar substitute? If I hate Skyping, does it make me a bad wife?
My weekly waterworks sessions weren’t enough to get me through the deployment — I needed a lifeline to lead me out of the chaos and back to solid ground. For me, that was laughter.
At my children’s swimming lessons, I tried to organize my scattered thoughts on a yellow legal pad. By the time they learned the crawl stroke a few weeks later, I had written four personal essays about my humorous observations on parenting, marriage and military life. The task of writing about my reality helped me sort my thoughts and see which ones were important and which weren’t worth worrying about. Turns out, crying about hardships in my life wasn’t nearly as therapeutic as laughing at the ridiculous minutia in between.
Socrates said, “The comic and the tragic lie inseparably close, like light and shadow.” Writing and telling funny stories has always been my way of achieving mindfulness during times of insecurity, hardship, and even tragedy. Our whole family uses humor both for fun and as a coping mechanism to approach delicate topics, get through awkward situations, deal with stress, and put others at ease. So rather than tell others, “It’s okay to cry,” I encourage them to see the humor in car pools, chicken nuggets, juice boxes, minivans, and so-called Supermoms. There is so much to smile about — you just have to know how to see it.
One year, my bunco group of a dozen women, most of whom were military wives and moms like me, took a girl’s weekend trip. On the second night we were all sitting around in our pajama pants after a full day of eating, drinking and playing games and we started talking about how we met our husbands. We went around the room, each of us offering our stories. When my turn came, I embellished the scene with embarrassing details, telling them about how I met Francis while I was shucking corn, with sand in my hair and my ears, and wearing an unflattering bathing suit.
When it was Michelle’s turn, we all looked in her direction, grinning with anticipation.
“We both worked at McDonald’s in high school,” she said.
“C’mon Michelle, we want all the details!” I prodded.
“But that’s the whole story,” she replied sincerely. “We met during a shift at McDonalds, and he eventually asked me on a date. There’s nothing else to it.”
Seriously? With an audience of eleven stay-at-home military wives, all starving for fun, she can’t come up with one lousy detail?
“It was the eighties, right?” I pushed. “What kind of gawd-awful polyester uniform were you wearing? Did your eyes meet over the French fryer? Did you rendezvous out at the dumpsters? Did you sneak him Shamrock Shakes? Did you share a McDLT and a cherry pie during your break? There’s so much material there. You can’t do this to us!”
We eked few more details out of Michelle, and I realized everyone has a story to be told. Whether it’s a one-line yawner or a rollicking tale of romance among the French fries, it’s all in the details.
I love telling a good story, and people seem to enjoy hearing them, but it’s not because my life is extraordinary. Nothing significant sets my family apart from other military families. I have never been nominated for Military Spouse of the Year. I am not academically gifted. I haven’t done anything to merit accolades of praise, swarms of sympathy, or chants of disapproval. I haven’t reached Nirvana … yet.
I am a garden-variety stay-at-home mom and Navy wife with three kids, a dog, and a surprisingly good meatloaf recipe. If I have a unique quality, it’s simply my ability to see fodder for funny stories in everyday life.
I honed my knack for storytelling while writing on that yellow legal pad as a way to cope with deployment stress. The secret I don’t tell anyone is that it was by pure accident that my home-grown therapy became my career. Writing was something I did to cope, but through the process of sorting out my life on paper, I became a columnist and author of The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.
That’s cool, because I’m all about bonus prizes.
As life continues to challenge us all, I’ll continue to tell the funny stories that helped keep me afloat during stressful times. Sure, crying is good, but I have learned that sometimes it’s better to live, love, and by all means, laugh.
Lisa Smith Molinari tells the full story of how she used humor to cope with the modern-day demands of military family life in her book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com (Elva Resa Publishing, May 1, 2020). She writes a weekly column called The Meat and Potatoes of Life, published in Stars and Stripes and syndicated across the country. For more about Lisa and her book (and maybe that meatloaf recipe) see her website www.themeatandpotatoesoflife.com.