It’s been said that children laugh, on average, 300 – 400 times a day. Whether scientifically proven or not, that makes me smile. Nothing touches my heart more than to hear my children laugh. And my grandchildren? They open my heart wide. When a child laughs uninhibitedly, a big long sustained-to-their-very-core laugh, don’t you laugh delightedly right along with them? Videos of belly laughing babies go viral.
Last weekend, my husband and my son were away at a magical place they visit each summer. I had my grandsons overnight. I’d picked them up later than usual, as I’d been interviewed live on an evening radio show emanating from Chicago.
On the way back home, I told them Chapter Nineteen of The Gifte Chronicles. These are fifteen to twenty minute “in the moment” oral adventures of my leopard Gifte and me in Africa. The boys get to tell me what they’re in the mood for… scary, funny, or sweet. Usually it’s scary. How Gifte fights off a bad animal, or in circumstances of nature, how she rescues a person, or animal, with minimal help from me.
Chapter Nineteen was pretty good, if I do say so myself. (Note to self: write down the subject of each “chapter.”) This time Gifte put herself in harm’s way to stop hunters terrorizing a herd of Impala for sport. Chapter Twenty, I told them, will be about poachers. In chorus they said, “What’s a poacher?” But, I digress.
They ate dinner on the dock, had a bowl of fresh raspberry sorbet, and settled down for half an hour of Looney Tunes before bed. I took my book and a glass of wine to a love seat with a view of the river. A few minutes later, one of them chuckled, then the other. There was a pause, then full-on belly laughs from the media room. I put my book down and listened for the sheer joy of it. Their laughter rolled in waves, and in another room, without benefit of the antics they were watching, I laughed with them. We probably worked on the statistic listed above to the tune of a hundred or more. It was fantastic.
There’s a name for the psychological study of laughter: gelotology. They’ve even mapped what happens in which area of a brain when one hears a joke. The left side of the cerebral cortex analyzes the words and structure, the frontal lobe lights up with emotion, the right hemisphere of the cortex carries out the intellectual analysis required to ‘get’ the joke, the brainwave activity spreads to the occipital lobe, and then finally to the motor sections for physical response. Laughter.
I love to laugh. You may have noticed that once or twice on my website. I’m making up for lost time. As a young adult, I didn’t know how to act like a kid. I’d forgotten how, given the nature and structure of our family. In a stroke of genius my therapist suggested I take my children to Disneyland. No problem. However, the rest of my assignment was to sit behind them and mimic every single thing they did. BIG problem! People would think I was crazy. I’d look like an idiot. My kids would be embarrassed. I would be mortified to draw attention to myself. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Still, I took the kids out of school for the day (maybe there’d be less people to witness my fall into insanity on a weekday) and off we went. Fantasy Land first, some teacup thing. I just couldn’t do it. “Come on,” I dared myself. “You trust this guy. You want to get healthy? Get. It. Done.” Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It’s dark in there. Good choice on my part, don’t you think? No one could see me. The attendant gave me a skeptical look when I requested the car behind my kids. We lurched forward. The kids shrieked with laughter. Mine was forced, but damn, I did laugh and shriek, sorta. They leaned into the ride. I did too. It took a dozen rides, but by the time we got to the roller coaster, I was having the time of my life.
Laughter lightens the spirit. It brightens the soul, and can heal a heart. When we see laughter leave a child’s eyes, when a child’s spontaneous joy fades away, it’s up to us to bring them back to laughter.
I want our children to laugh . . . safe. Protected. It’s ours to ensure. We are the hope for children whenever we take a stand on a child’s behalf.