Jokes, insults and the joy of being an only child

At 4 or 5, I took my first stab at comedy. Though I hardly recall the details, my mom and dad won’t let me forget.
“Mommy and Daddy, can I ask you a joke?” I exclaimed. “Okay, Potato!” they responded.
“How many penguins does it take to change a lightbulb?” “I don’t know. How many?”
“A SQUASH! Get it? Get it?”
Their eyes met, filled with either pity or remorse–I couldn’t tell. I remember shoving my head really close to their faces because of the awkward silence. Their following laughter was painfully forced. But my little 4-year-old brain didn’t understand the forced laughter as anything other than pure, unadulterated joy.
If you couldn’t tell, I wasn’t very good at telling jokes when I was younger. As much as it pains me to say it, I’m still not very good at telling jokes. I’m not very good at insults either. As much as I loathe to admit it, in early elementary school, my dad created one of the best diss tracks of all time. It went something like this:
My name is Miley,
I am a Piley,
And I like to poop all day!
I like to poo-poo
That’s what I doo-doo
Lah-de dah-de dah-de day!

In my naïveté, I would retort with a speech long enough to be a filibuster about how I was not, in fact, a “Piley” and I did not, in fact, “poop all day.” Then, I would harumph and act like I was above it all. My dad would just smirk and sing the song again.
I blame my lackluster jokes and insults on the fact that I don’t have a sibling. From what I’ve heard from friends and family, siblings are both your best friend and the devil incarnate, making them a perfect partner for insult- slinging.

Sometimes, I wish I had a sibling for other reasons. When your parents live separately and you only see one of them at a time, it’s tough to play three-player games like Catan, and Texas hold ‘em is just plain boring. Things were especially tough during Covid when there were only ever two people in the house.

I was in third grade when insult-wars with my friends began. I lost badly. On the ride home from school, I think my dad pitied me because he gave me a crash course on, in our opinion, the two best insults: “your mom” and “your face.” No need for clever tricks or wordplay; they were straight to the point. Like the menace I was, I abused my newfound power, especially against my dad:

My dad would say, “My name is Miley—”
I would immediately interject with: “Your face!”
“You suck!”

“Your face!”

“You’re such a butt!”

“Your mom!”

My dad made me promise to never use “your mom” again after that.

Eventually, we started using the phrase so much that every insult ended the same way, always some variation of: “Your face,” “No, your face,” “No, your face,” and on and on. Although the insult lost its potency, my dad and I were never tired of its ridiculousness. After each salvo, we’d either be laughing or groaning with a smile on our faces.

Much to my dismay, I’m still not good at telling jokes or insults. I’ve gotten better, but most of my jokes are corny puns, and I still haven’t found an insult more effective than ‘your face!’. However, I do have a different view on wordplay and siblings.

To me, jokes and insults are a way to make memories. Some jokes are deemed worthy of genuine praise, while others, like the penguin-squash, are enshrined as legendary failures that make our hearts a little warm and fuzzy. So no, I don’t need a sibling to practice my word-slinging–the memories I’ve made with my parents are irreplaceable.

I’m lucky enough that my mom and dad are still each other’s best friends. We play family games more often now. Sometimes we’ll play Catan, and we laugh about how twelves and twos come up the most often. Sometimes, in a game of Texas hold ‘em, I’ll go all-in on a terrible hand, but we’ll all smile as my dad hollers, “And Miley does it again!” Sometimes I still think about what it would’ve been like if I had a sibling. But then, I think of all the times I was the center of my parents’ attention, all the times we laughed and smiled. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

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