Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3.

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Laugh . . . or cry?

BETH VRABEL Smart Mama

While roller skating at a friend’s birthday party, my 7-year-old, Emma, wiped out.

One leg twisted behind her, another bent in front and both arms splayed.

“Are you all right?” I gasped.

“Just practicing a yoga move,” she said, and might’ve pulled off the cool-girl act had she not found herself to be hilarious. “I crack myself up, just like an egg!”

My kids definitely get their sense of humor from their father. Jon can make me laugh in even the toughest situations.

When Emma was just a baby, a doctor told us she was visually impaired. Later that same day, I snickered through tears — and knew we’d all be OK — as Jon blithely told Emma about the “Three Visually Impaired Mice.”

Benny, our 3-year-old, has his own standup routine. “I’m an old lady!” he croaks as he walks around the house stooped over. “Want to see my slow run?” Then he launches into a slow motion jog in place, complete with exaggerated wiping of his brow.

These jokes were deliberate, but there are just as many times when the children are unintentionally funny. Having entertaining kids is a blessing, but trying to keep it together when the laughter would be “at them” rather than “with them” is tough.

I can’t begin to count the number of times Jon and I have had to turn our backs to the children’s wrath to choke back our laughter. There is just something so funny about half-pint brimming over with fury after walking full force into a sliding glass door.

But that would be laughing at instead of with, so we try to restrain.

A friend who is the mom of an 8-year-old girl told me about fighting back laughter during her daughter’s first time chewing gum. “Today,” the serious-minded girl said, “my goal is to chew gum and walk at the same time. Do you think I can do it? OK, here goes.”

And then there are the times as a parent where you either have to laugh or cry.

Such as while I was interviewing someone for a York Daily Record/Sunday News article.

“I have to make an important phone call while you watch ‘Sesame Street,’” I told Benny. “I need you to be very polite while I’m on the phone.”

To me, this meant he shouldn’t demand snacks and sing along to “Elmo’s World.”

To Benny, it meant leaning into the phone about five minutes later and politely stating: “In a minute, I’m going to need you to wipe my butt.”

Total silence on the other end of the phone. “Um, excuse me while I help my son with something,” I muttered and then walked away.

As soon as possible, I picked up the phone. “Sorry about that,” I said in my best professional voice, just in time for Benny to call out, “I’m not wearing any pants!”

Laugh or cry? I had to laugh.

Again, I chose laughter when Emma scolded me for calling our dog a “dummy.”

Jasper had taken a flying leap off a small walking bridge to chase a butterfly, landing in thick mud that he proceeded to shake over all of us.

“It’s not nice to say ‘dummy,’” Emma said with as much righteousness a mud-streaked 7-year-old can wield. “When I’m angry with someone, I just think ‘dummy’ in my head.”

Then she glared at me so I would know exactly what she was thinking about me just then.

And I turned my head, hoping she wouldn’t see my shoulders shaking.

Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 7, and son, Benny, 3. For more Smart Mama columns visit www.smartmamapa.com.

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