Tristan Kennedy is an incredibly social person, his mom noted.
“He’s always been the kid in the neighbourhood who will say hello to every single person passing by, and strike up a random conversation about anything, and everything, that’s going on,” Naya Kohout said.
So at the beginning of the pandemic – when the ability to chat with his neighbours was taken away – it was a little upsetting to the five-year-old Pitt Meadows boy.
“It was quite noticeable when we were at home,” Kohout said. “When he would see people walking past the window, he would say, ‘Why can’t I go outside and talk to them?’ or, ‘Why can’t they come in and play?’”
As a fun way of interacting with passers by without getting too close, Kohout and Tristan decided to put jokes up on their lawn – which is a short distance away from Pitt Meadows Secondary School.
She bought a few flag posts from a dollar store, and with some office supplies, started creating signs.
The set-up for the joke would be placed on one end of the property line, and the punch line would be at the other, so passers-by could have a chuckle.
On the first day the pair put up the signs, a postal worker paused to see what they were up to.
“I said, ‘We’re putting up a joke,’” Kohout recalled, “And he asked, ‘How often are you going to do this?’
“I had been thinking maybe once a week we’d change it, and then Tristan turned around and said, ‘Every day.’ So I thought – I guess we’ll try and do this every day.”
At the time, Kohout – like almost everyone else who was not a virologist – thought the pandemic would not last long, but it kept going.
Every morning Tristan would remind his mom that they had to get a joke out before people walk by.
“I‘d usually read him about two or three, and very bluntly he’d say, ‘No I don’t get that one, or yeah, that’s a good one,’” Kohout said.
Once they found one that would work, Kohout would write it out, and sometimes add a drawing to spruce it up.
“At the most basic level, there was something for Tristan to do every day,” his mom said.
“It gave that little bit of structure, where we had an activity to do first thing, and it was really great when we were outside – or even if we were in our living room with the windows open – and he would get to hear people reading the joke or have people stop and say, ‘Oh, I really enjoy your joke.’”
One hundred and fifty five days passed before Tristan started kindergarten, and the lawn joke placement came to an end.
Between getting lunches made, picking the right clothes to wear, and still fitting in some play time before school, it was a bit too much to also write and post a daily joke, Kohout said.
“So then we decided – after all of the jokes that we’d put up, and all the compliments we’d received, and all the laughter we’d heard as people walked by – we wanted to make sure that it was preserved for Tristan, so later on in life, he would be able to see what we had accomplished.”
Kohout said she put all the jokes into a book for him, and called it – A Reason to Smile.
“But then Tristan said, ‘Maybe grandma and grandpa might want a book for Christmas,’ and then it became – well, maybe all of these people who’ve walked by, and said how much they enjoyed the jokes, would want a copy too,” she said.
So far, they have printed, sold, and delivered their first run of 18 copies, and have pre-sold 37 books of their second run of 50 copies.
Proceeds are going to the Ridge Meadows Seniors Society and local food banks.
The Pitt Meadows mom thinks the experience will be very valuable for her son.
“The whole time I’m trying to slowly install these lessons of how we’re all still connected and how doing something positive has a positive impact on yourself just as much as it does somebody else,” she said.
To get a copy of A Reason to Smile, email Tristan at email@example.com.