When I was a little girl, I was extremely self-conscious about the way I looked. I suppose I still am, but I definitely like the way I look a lot more now than I ever did as a kid (I guess I finally grew into my face or something). My parents cut my hair short because it was so unruly and I didn't know how to take care of it. I had huge 80s glasses (and I wasn't cute in them). I was overweight. My face was all weird, too. I've always had a pointy chin and a big nose. And people teased me constantly. I hated the way I looked and wondered why I couldn't be pretty--or at least normal looking-- like the other girls.
But when I was 8 or 9, there was some Disney Channel special with Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams (pretty sure it was appropriately named "Carol, Carl, Whoopi, and Robin," and I'm pretty sure it was all kinds of brilliant). This was also about the time I started seeing "Mork and Mindy" reruns on Nick at Nite. And I was suddenly just entranced by Robin Williams. He was over-the-top hilarious, but in a way that was genuine and natural (a lot of the other comedians of my childhood seemed like they were trying too hard). I saw in Robin Williams a guy I could relate to. He was a pretty funny looking guy, at least to my 8 or 9 year old brain (I think he was handsome, now--those eyes!). The more I looked at him, the more I realized that he looked a little bit like me. He could have been my father with his funny face--his unruly feathery hair and pointed chin and protruding nose.
But people weren't laughing at him like they laughed at me--because they wanted to make me feel badly about myself. They were laughing at him (and usually with him) because he was funny. They weren't laughing in a cruel way, but they were laughing at him because he was hilarious, because he made them happy. It was such a gift to be able to make others laugh like that. And I actually started thinking, at the age of 8 or 9, that God maybe had a reason for making me look the way I did. Maybe I wasn't supposed to be classically beautiful like some of the other girls. Maybe I was supposed to look funny so that I could make others laugh--like Robin Williams did.
Suddenly, everything changed in the way I looked at things. I was still self-conscious and awkward, but I decided that I wanted to be funny. I wanted to make people laugh. I wanted to bring others happiness by being as funny as possible.
I wasn't always class clown material, though, and I was probably more annoying than hilarious...at least for a few years. But now? Well, now I have people telling me all the time how much I make them laugh. I have people telling me they purposely stalk me on Facebook because they know I'll have something funny posted. They tell me that I bring happiness to their lives.
The kids I watch? Most of them know two things about me 1) I love them, and 2) I'm silly. And those reasons, more than anything else, are why I'm good with kids. I have the tough love stuff down pretty well, too, but only when its necessary. Most of the time, I'm the fun teacher. Children understand that life doesn't have to be as serious as adults sometimes make it out to be. When an adult takes the time to stop being a serious adult and just have fun with them, that actually communicates love to most children.
And in the light of this tragic loss of my favorite comedian of all time, Robin Williams, I've suddenly realized that he is the main reason that I have wanted to touch others' lives with humor and wit. When I was that awkward, strange-looking kid, Robin Williams helped me see that I could use even my awkwardness and strange-lookingness and quirkiness to bless others.
I just read a very touching Robin Williams tribute blog over at my friend Jay Mims' blog, and I was trying to write a comment without crying. And no one should feel badly about crying for Robin Williams' death, or for the death of any entertainer, for that matter. I think it's sometimes very appropriate to grieve for the entertainers and artists we've never met. Even though we never knew them, we connected with them. They have made us laugh and cry and feel and hope and dream. They've been a vital part of our human experiences.
And sometimes I'm tempted to feel useless in what I do. The childcare is definitely useful, and I love doing it, but I also want to do more with the other gifts I have been given. I want to write. I want to sing. I want to continue making people laugh. But the world seems to scream at artists that they're impractical. There's so much emphasis on practical careers nowadays. Science! Math! Technology! Practical! Practical! Practical! Go back to school and become a nurse! Go back to school and become an engineer! Go back to school and become a legal consultant. Go back to school, you dreaming adult who never got a practical job, and do something USEFUL with your life!
It's very discouraging.
But I thought about Robin Williams and how much joy he brought to my life, about how much joy he brought to so many others. I thought about how appropriate it is to grieve for those artists and musicians and entertainers who have been part of our lives--how we've laughed and mourned and danced and dreamed alongside them--how we've taken their stories as part of our own.
I haven't talked to anyone who isn't just devastated that Robin Williams is dead. Everyone is grieving. It's because he made a difference in our lives. And I remember now. I remember now why I do what I do, why I want to encourage others to laugh and to dream.
The world needs a little impractical.
When I finally managed to comment on my friend's blog, a security window popped up asking me one of those annoying code questions to ensure I wasn't a spammer. It read, "Please prove you're not a robot."
Well, I started crying again. Why? Because I'm not a robot. I'm human. I'm an entertainer. I'm a writer and a songstress and a laugher and a weeper and a hoper and a dreamer.
I think sometimes we need the impractical, the nonsensical, the beautifully, wonderfully, hilariously brilliant dreamers of the world to remind us, to PROVE to us. We are not robots.
So thanks, Robin Williams. Thanks for all you gave us. Thanks for all you gave me.