When I was a kid I thought Christmas Eve was such a tease. My mom would mention that times had been financially hard and that we mustn’t expect much under the tree. As an adult, I came to the conclusion that this was her way of reducing expectations so that when Christmas morning arrived we would all be awestruck that Santa had somehow pulled off one of his miracles. I think my mom’s approach to Christmas morning gift giving was the reason I often developed a stomach ache on December 24th.
This example also taught me about the larger pattern in my mom’s behaviour towards others: set them up with what seemed like the truth, orchestrate a reversal, say you were just having fun, accuse them of not being able to take a joke. Sadly, she lost many friends using this strategy of social engagement, including her own daughter.
My mom was a natural born teaser, yet she hated the comedy of Don Rickles; a man who made a career from taking the mickey out of people.
His use of mockery and ridicule at an audience member’s expense disturbed me. While I recognize that many people think teasing is all in good sport, my experience with my mom, taught me that teasing someone, like in any sport, produces winners and losers. Maybe my mom thought that teasing me early would give me character, or thicken my skin. I would say it made me shy with people. A former girlfriend, early in our relationship, said she wouldn’t ‘joke with me’ until she knew me better. A pretty accurate comment, I felt at the time, since teasing can bore into your heart if you don’t ‘get the joke’.
Teasing was not promoted as a form of humour when I became a father. My wife and I agreed that making fun of someone would not be something we modelled to our sons. She was a fibre artist and was very practised at teasing out particles from animal fur. For example, raw sheep wool, even after it has been washed, has much debris embedded in the fibre. Deft fingers are required to remove tiny seeds or vegetable filaments. Bits of straw, dung, dead insects and such can be picked from the fleece using a carder. A hand carder has many rows of fine metal spikes. A carding machine looks like an instrument of torture. When the fibre has been processed in this way, you can roll a clean roving that can be spun into yarn.
Christmas is a time of yarns. Sometimes we have to tease apart the truth from the stories before we can spin the best yarns. I guess in this sense finding the truth requires some teasing. Perhaps that’s what we do when we are poking fun; trying to provoke a reaction that will tell us something more about the person who is the butt of our joke.
Life can be messy, especially when we aren’t sure how to separate the drama from the comedy.