"Hold tight to the magic of summer," I told my son this time last year. He'd just found out a few kids who'd broken his tiny heart in kindergarten were going to be in his first-grade class.
"But how is it magic?" he asked, just as he had asked many previous times, needing to hear it again.
"Summer changes you," I said. "You see new things. You do new things. You're challenged. You grow. You change — sometimes for the worse, most of the time for the better. So I want you to let people surprise you. See what the magic of summer delivered. See whether they sparkle with the magic. Allow them their new skin."
Summer is coming to a close. Children are heading back to school — some in person, some in masks, some through a virtual portal. Some are lost. What magic have we this year?
My children are some of the lucky ones, attending online school in an RV as we attempt to outrun... everything?
For years, I've found it hard to write. For months, I've found it hard to speak. For weeks, I've found it hard to breathe. Or has it been longer than that?
Because I'm here to tell jokes. And there are jokes to be told, surely.
Did you hear the one about the buffalo dropping his kid off at school? He said, "Bison." I want to share with you how my son just turned 8 and I'd promised him a herd of bison for his birthday but instead we saw a colony of prairie dogs. My son bent over, chirped his best prairie dog chirp — and was immediately bitten. His reaction was pure joy. Who gets bitten by a wild prairie dog? But as I type the story, I learn prairie dogs can carry the bubonic plague, and I can't escape falling down the burrow of typing about COVID-19. So I stop typing.
Because I'm here to tell funny tales. And there are funny tales to share, surely.
I want to tell you about how I'm trying to teach my children to be more self-sufficient. Before a long hike, I told each of them to go to the fridge and pack their own backpack with snacks and cool drinks for the hot day. When we finally arrived at our picnic spot, my 4-year-old pulled a can of beer from her backpack. When I guffawed, she said, innocent and confused, "But Daddy always says it's the best cold drink on a hot day." I want to laugh with you about how I'd brought water for all of us, prepared for a possible miscalculation but not a misdemeanor. But then I want to carry on about clean water and how Flint still doesn't have it. And about supremacy. And a knee on a neck. And injustice at home. And around the world. But I only have 750 words or so for this column, so I don't say anything at all.
Because I'm here to make you laugh. And surely, there is much to laugh about. Like how my 4-year-old can't figure out her mask, so she wears a scarf over her entire face — covering her mouth, nose and eyes — and then asks whether it's nighttime because it's dark. Like how when we were driving through Wyoming and I saw a road sign that said "Open range — stray stock," my first thought was it meant guns firing and stray bullets. But then I find it hard to breathe. And I step away for fresh air.
"The magic of summer worked!" my son screamed while running toward me for a hug when I picked him up after his first day of first grade one year ago. "They changed! They were so nice!"
This is an oversimplification, yes. But that doesn't make it any less true.
It is of utmost importance that we cling to joy in times like these. That we find it and celebrate it. Laugh and smile. But I am also finding that joy cannot exist without hope in the magic of summer. That it will get better. That we will get better. Ourselves and our neighbors. That we will grow and evolve and wear our new skin. That we will be permitted this new sparkle.
These days, funny for the sake of funny feels negligent. Inappropriate. But I'm noticing that funny stories for the sake of hope bring me great joy and release me from the death grip of not being able to say anything at all. Like focusing on the woman who invited us into her home after watching us nearly get struck by lightning. A few weeks later, my husband asked whether we should pay it forward and invite a woman who was tent camping alone during a thunderstorm into our RV. I surprised myself by saying yes. We were further surprised when, after venturing out into the torrential rain, we found her tent empty. No doubt she had been invited inside by others.
Allowing for surprise is where funny meets hope, after all. It's where the magic lives.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book "Stop Farting in the Pyramids," available at http://www.creators.com/books/stop-farting-in-the-pyramids. Follow Katiedid Langrock on Instagram, at http://www.instagram.com/writeinthewild. To find out more about her and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.