Toddlers seem to be naturals at slap-stick comedy. Something that I don't find remotely amusing in grown men (Larry, Curly or Moe), and something that is silly and worth a smile in elementary-aged children, is downright hilarious when the entertainer is 2 years old. We've got one of those.
Little Pete also knows when he has captured his audience. He knows those laughs are for his antics, and he hams it up even more. His face contorts into his funniest expressions, his movements get wilder, and his energy-level seems infinite. And his absolute favorite time to perform is when his entire family is gathered and seated quietly: when it's time for bedtime prayers. Instead of reverent children turning their innocent minds to offer pure prayers to the Creator, our family's prayers are frequently choked out between guffaws and snickers.
The other night, Pete was using a miniature rugby ball as a prop. He would throw the ball, watch it careen off whatever surface it randomly hit (crib, dresser, his brother's head), then stagger/waddle/run over to wherever it landed, and then repeat. When I said, "Pete, it's time for prayers," he stopped dead in his tracks for a second, threw the ball at his own head, and then took a huge prat-fall to the ground, making funny faces the whole time. Everybody laughed.
I sighed and made the following speech:
"There is a temptation to laugh. Petey is funny, but we are supposed to be praying. Have you noticed how I pray? I squeeze my eyes tightly shut so I can't see the silly baby. Try to focus on the prayers and not look at Pete. If you have trouble, close your eyes, tightly! Try to resist the temptation to laugh. Don't look at the baby! Now, let's have a contest (my kids love contests). Let's see who can go the longest without laughing. Okay? In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Our Father, who art...."
And then, already, laughing. I opened my tightly squeezed eyes to see MY HUSBAND as the culprit. I shot him a look of death - the kind that demands to know what kind of a role-model he is and offers the answer of not-very-good - and returned to praying with closed eyes. Except for him, who thought even my chiding was funny and unashamedly continued to barely suppress his chuckling, the laughter was minimized and my two girls insisted that they had won the contest because they had managed to control themselves (that contest thing - gets them every time). I admit that at one point, sensing a pause in the action, I peeked to see what Mr. Stand-Up was doing and had to swallow a laugh myself.
Eventually, 2 year olds turn into 3 year olds and the same actions just aren't quite as funny. Eventually, his occasional moments of imitated piety with perfectly folded fat fingers and serious expression will be routine.
Eventually, though, there will be another toddler to take his place, and I'll be giving the same speech all over again.