I hate to say it, but I think my days of pulling April Fools’ Day pranks on my children may be behind me.
Not that I couldn’t come up with a good idea this year, though it does get harder as the kids grow older.
Actually, it’s more that I’m starting to wonder whether the pranks I’ve pulled in the past might have been, well, kind of mean.
If you ask my kids about it, they’re quick to say, yes, their mom is a big meany. My daughter and son, now 17 and 14, vividly recall the time I made them chocolate-chip pancakes for breakfast one April 1, and didn’t stop them before they dug in – even though those chips were in fact bits of black olive.
Also, I once served milk with orange food coloring in it. It really did look like orange juice, so they didn’t figure it out till they took that first big gulp. Surprise!
Worst of all, though, was the time I told my son, just a wee grade-schooler, that it was safety day at school and he was to wear his bike helmet on the bus. He waited at the head of our driveway with his helmet on for some time before the bus appeared. I had mercy and let him in on the joke in the nick of time – he took the helmet off before the other kids saw him — but he still felt embarrassed. Who wouldn’t?
At the time I perpetrated these hoaxes, I believed I was enriching the kids’ young lives, giving them fun, happy memories to look back on one day. And maybe that’s how it will turn out, after all. Even yesterday morning, when we were discussing April Fools’ Day, the two of them seemed to bond over their shared memories of my cruel stunts.
But I’m still worried about what my inclination to fool my kids says about me as a mother.
I talked with Thomas Olkowski, a licensed clinical psychologist in Denver, to get some perspective on my pranks.
His assessment: The first two, food-related ones were “very clever.”
The bike-helmet one? “That was borderline.”
Why? Because “it could have led to his being made fun of on the bus by other children,” Olkowski explains.
“The safest thing for parents is to keep it simple, nothing degrading or critical to a child. A lot of humor sometimes is [degrading or critical],” he said. The idea is to “make it funny so both the parents and the child can laugh about it.”
A good family April Fools joke, Olkowski says, “is something that, when the secret is discovered, nobody has to feel bad about it.” A good joke might also “stimulate them to come up with tricks to play on you,” he adds. (Don’t get any big ideas, kids.)
Of course, if I were one of my kids reading this blog, I’d wonder what Mom’s got up her sleeve today.
So, writing this may be all the trickery I need this year.
Do you play April Fools’ jokes on your family and friends? Have you ever felt like you went over the line? And has a joke played on you ever done you any harm?