I’ve always loved slapstick comedies. When I was young I used to imitate some of the physical pratfalls that comedians did on TV and movies. I excelled at falling down and walking into things. This became very useful when I actually did walk into things, since no one knew how clumsy I really was. I used to do these types of activities just to amuse myself, and others, especially my young nieces and nephews. My favorite was walking into walls and doors. When close enough to a wall, I would drag my back foot so it brushed my front foot, and thus creating the impression that I was tripping over something. As I headed toward the wall in question I would raise my hand and slap the wall just as my head was close enough to look as if it hit it. The sound of the slap, followed by a rebound of my head was enough to look as if I had tripped into a wall. I would immediately put my hand to my face and look dazed to complete the impression. Depending upon who was the witness, there was either shock or laughter. Adults tended to be shocked and wanted to offer help, children laughed. This type of slapstick behavior continued well throughout my young adulthood. Sometimes doing these types of behaviors did not have consequences.
By the time I was twenty-two my two year old niece had seen the walking into doors act a number of times. Her laughter at my behavior promoted more actions on my part. She would never tire of my antics. One day however while we were playing normally, she decided she needed to poke me in the eye. I must preface this by saying that I never did any physical humor involving others, similar to the Three Stooges. All of my shtick was self-imposed. Needless to say when my niece poked me in the eye, I reacted by putting my hand to my face and screaming “Ouch!”. As expected, her reaction was intense laughter, with the hopes of being able to do it again. I realized at this point that I had set this pattern up. It took me a while to explain to her that this was real and that poking someone in the eye is not an acceptable action. She was after all two years old.
Watching movies nowadays, like “Night at the Museum” where the monkey slaps Ben Stiller and in response Ben Stiller slaps the monkey back is not the reaction you want to teach a two year old a lesson. I was old enough to realize that poking my niece in the eye was not the right thing to do. So I tried calmly to explain that she had hurt me and that she shouldn’t do it again. Sometimes you just have to wait for the right moment for that kind of lesson.
Let’s turn now to Chanukah, 2009 at my sister’s house. Our whole family is there, including all my nieces and nephews. My niece is now 36 years older with a husband and two year old of her own. This two year old ran around with his cousins and jumped and hugged others. At one point he jumped on my niece’s lap and pokes her right in the eye. Both she and her husband admonish him in the attempt to point out that poking someone in the eye is inappropriate behavior. They were looking for contrition on the face of their son. However what I saw on his face was that same expression from 36 years ago when a two year old niece of mine reacted to poking me in the eye. I know I should have had some compassion for her and for her son, who had no idea what he had done wrong, but all I could think about was what goes around comes around and I was there to see it.