‘Don’t laugh, it’s sore!’
Inappropriate reactions to mishaps run in the family, confesses Karin.
Of all the weird and wonderful genes shot like arrows from the forebears I knew to the ones I have produced, the most embarrassing is without a doubt a penchant for laughing inappropriately when someone gets hurt.

Strangely, this was not inherited from the German side, considering the provenance of the concept of Schadenfreude. But then, this laughter that pops out in response to someone else’s bumps has nothing to do with being glad they got hurt. It’s just an ungovernable reaction to the slapstick-icity of life.

Yesterday my son said: ‘The one thing I really hate about myself is that I laugh when someone gets hurt.’

My mother and I gave one another meaningful glances – it is, after all, from her, her mother and me that he inherited this malady.

My mother tells the story that she and her cousin were once sliding around on the newly polished and rain-wet floor of her Ouma’s stoep when Ouma came out to admonish them. She slipped and landed on her backside and my mother started laughing. Her punishment was to sweep the rain off the stoep and polish the whole thing again. Her prudent cousin was herded into the house and probably given some beskuit.

Blood on the yoga mat

My story is this. A few years ago my neighbour began teaching a few of us yoga from her spare room on Tuesday nights, leading us with reverence through the asanas. One day she decided it was headstand day. I hadn’t done a headstand in yoga for a few years and told her I didn’t know if I still could and she helpfully came to stand beside me. Unnecessarily it emerged, because muscle memory was triggered and I launched my legs aloft in a graceful arch, simultaneously cracking her nasal septum with the heel of my foot.

The violence of breaking someone’s bones is shocking.

It was so silent that when the blood began to trickle from her nose we could hear it drip on to my yoga mat. And then I started giggling.

It was not a fine moment. I still cringe when I think of it.

A while ago my son was sitting on what I came to think of as his thinking swing - a circle of wood suspended from an old olive tree for close on eight years. As he arced over a flowerbed thick with shrubs, the rope gave in and he landed in the plants with his end of the now-slack rope clutched in his grubby 11-year old paws. He paused in that stunned way you do when it takes a while for your mind to catch up with what’s just happened to your body.

My daughter and I broke the spell with hysterical laughter. (I’m sorry. It was funny.) He grunted a bit, and rubbed his bum and started laughing too.

I comfort myself with two things. One: giggling inappropriately is a known nervous reaction and, two: I’ve never, ever laughed when my kids have really hurt themselves.

My advice to my son was not to try and force back the genetic imperative, but to simply turn around and go and laugh elsewhere. Rather be seen as cold, than completely insensitive.

But, hell, life’s so Laurel & Hardy sometimes.

What inappropriate habits have your children inherited from you?

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