We spent Christmas with my family at my parents' house (yes, my mother and I ended our estrangement and things seem to be going well so far). My entire family was there - my 2 brothers and their wives/girlfriends, their children (4), my parents and us...a total of 12 people.
The presents were piled high and the children, of course, were extra riled up in anticipation of opening their gifts. As is always the case, my hubby gets them even more riled up by roughhousing with them and being the crazy uncle who is throwing himself on the floor, playing "karate" with them and doing other shenanigans - anything to get them to laugh.
At one point, my brother Ron, my sister-in-law (the other brother's wife) and I were standing in the kitchen observing my hubby and three of the kids in the full throes of chaos. One of the kids had gotten an Indiana Jones whip as a present - a soft (harmless) whip that makes a real whipping sound when it makes contact with someone. So my nephew Anthony was whipping hubby and hubby was reacting like he was really getting whipped - falling over and making silly, pained faces. All of the kids were laughing, but the one laughing the hardest was my youngest nephew, Bobby, who is 2 1/2. He was laughing so hard, he was to the point of hysterics and his belly laughter had all of us in stitches. He was doubling over and holding his stomach each time hubby was whipped. Within moments the entire family was watching and being entertained and were laughing as hard as Bobby.
And then, my brother Ron (the father of the laughing toddler) said (obviously for my benefit), "this is the kind of thing that makes having a kid all worth it. It can be hard sometimes but moments like this make it all worthwhile."
Because I am keeping peace in the family and am careful to do NOTHING to cause any problems whatsoever, I said nothing but continued to smile and laugh at the scene before us. I simply did not respond.
What I wanted to say was this: "Well, I am getting just as much enjoyment from this moment as you, yet I do not have any of the burdens of being a parent. I win!!!"
But seriously, I just have to shake my head sometimes at the rationale people give for having kids. People love to rationalize that undertaking a life of burden, sacrifice, never-ending work, financial strain, marital strain, relinquishment of friends, hobbies and interests is worth it to get the rare moments like this - when one can experience the joy of watching his child laugh hysterically at his crazy uncle - a benefit that one can just as easily enjoy by watching other peoples' kids in situations like this (particularly if the kids are loved ones) or (as hubby says) by renting Three Stooges videos. My heart was bubbling over with just as much joy as my brother while watching Bobby's fits of belly laughter and yet my brother felt compelled to make a point that his joy was somehow superior to mine because he is the one who reproduced.
The irony of the situation, of course, is that it was hubby - a childfree person - who was the one to elicit said infectious laughter from the tot, not either of the parents. It is precisely because we are childfree that we are not jaded by the day-to-day grind of childrearing and are therefore more fun and engaged with the kids. Kids are a novelty to us and we, as fun grownups who enjoy kids and who are still in touch with our inner child, are a novelty to our nieces and nephews. We joyfully engage with them and play with them on their level, while the parents look on and feel grateful for a moment of rest.
So my brother feeling superior for being a parent was laughable, but I was proud of myself for having the self discipline to keep my mouth shut when I could have just as easily smacked him down and put him right back in his place. I just smiled and let him have his moment of smugness. If it makes him feel better, good for him. He needs the reinforcement more than I do, and I am well aware that it will be just a blink of an eye before that adorable, giggling toddler will be a sullen, backtalking teenager. We'll see who's feeling smug then.