My nephew is a bit like me. I guess everyone tries to take credit for the looks or behavior of small children, but I'm pretty sure about this one. He doesn't look like me; he's hideous. (kidding) But he shares my childhood predispostions, most notably an almost obsessive and singular interest in anything that makes you laugh. While other boys buried themselves in books on dinosaurs or World War II military vehicles and weapons or sci-fi and fantasy, I cared only for Garfield treasuries, Peanuts paperbacks, Al Jaffee's Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, and Syd Hoff's "how to" comic drawing books.
At only six years old, Oliver is alarmingly similar. When my sister and her family arrived for dinner, Oliver had a plastic shopping bad tucked under his arm. Inside it were two large paperback collections of the Foxtrot comic strip, from which he spent most of dinner reading aloud. I didn't find the comics especially funny, partly due to his enthusiastic but sloppy delivery, but he punctuated each one with awestruck laughter. Just losing his shit over references he didn't even understand. (I am pretty sure Oliver knows nothing about Klingon language or Martin Scorcese or Doc Martens, even though each of those things served as punchlines in a Foxtrot strip, but he laughed like he was pretty intimate with the references. When I was around his age, I was the same way with Garfield. I laughed and laughed, despite possessing absolutely no knowledge of lasagna.) Oliver also appreciates jokebooks (he's already got the "interrupting cow" knock-knock joke down perfectly), drawing cartoons and listening to fart SFX audio files on my computer. (Shh.)
His younger brother Avery, who is only four years old, has a slightly less sophisticated sense of humor. Last night he was pacing between the living room and dining room, endlessly droning the following phrase: "I Pooted." (I learned much later that this is a catchphrase from a cartoon called "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends." ) It was more ominous than silly. Like Village of the Damned, but with farts. When I asked him why he kept saying that, he replied: "It means I pooped in my pants. But I was only faking it to make people laugh." This kind of candor and deconstruction, while appreciated, is a telltale sign that Avery will not grow up to be a very funny person.
But where Avery lacks in humor, he excels in compassion and patriotism. Last night, while Oliver and I were busting a gut and high-fiving each other over an audio file on my computer called "hit_with_frying_pan.wav" Avery walked in cradling a ceramic music box. The music box pictured Tevya, from Fiddler on the Roof. He was, true to form, perched on a rooftop, fiddling. As Avery handled the music box with extra care, he told us: "I have to be careful with this because it belonged to pop-op's [my father, his grandfather] brother, Jerry, and he's dead so this has special meaning to him. FOURTH OF JULY!!!!" Childhood permits the best segues.*
*This has been my entry in the "Are You The Web's Next Erma Bombeck?" contest, sponsored by Parenting Magazine.