The blue lines on the pregnancy test appeared within seconds to form a bright, blue cross: we’d never done this before, but we knew exactly how to read it. I waved the stick with glee at my husband: “Positive! We’re pregnant,” I squealed. I looked down at the test again: our family was definitively plus one, just like the sign said.
“Whoa!” said my husband as he dredged himself from sleep. “That is awesome!” And seconds later, as the news settled one layer deeper into his new-dad brain … “Now I can play with LEGOs again!” We sat under the covers and giggled: LEGOs and laughter and a thousand new joys lay before us.
We are more than a decade into our parenting journey now, and while unexpected challenges and humility have come with this season of life, we were right about the LEGOs and the laughter. There have been nights I have gone to sleep and heard the scraping sounds of little hands scooping mounds of LEGOs through the bin deep into my dreams, a plastic rattling drilling into my subconscious brick by brick. But more than the grating sounds of LEGO trawling, the soundtrack I will remember most is my children’s laughter. Also, there has been crying. Much, much crying. But oh! So much laughing. Laughter when veggie straws can be put in nostrils to look like seal tusks. Laughter when potty training and the number twos make a shape in the bowl. Laughter when the tickle monster appears at bedtime. Laughter at ten thousand knock-knock jokes. Laughter at silly voices. Laughter at VeggieTales, all over again. Laughter at underpants worn on the head. Laughter of delight the first time they rode a bike without training wheels.
I have loved their laughter more than anything else in this life of motherhood. Their laughter has been a gift, hope, and relief to me again and again. I drank the sound of toddler giggles like the elixir of life through years of midnight wake-ups and sleeplessness. And perhaps, there is nothing that feels like a parenting win as much as being able to coax a grin out of a child when they’ve had a really bad day at soccer practice. It started when they were really little, and I would ham it up in the most ridiculous ways, stretching my mouth and crossing my eyes and puffing out my cheeks like a fool: anything to make my baby giggle. And I do it still: I will endure the eye rolls of disdain as I make the worst puns and lamest jokes if only to get a bubble of laughter out of their surly funk.
Here is the marvel of it, though. The soundtrack of my children’s laughter in my memory is clearly and distinctly theirs, but when I watch movie clips from their early years, there is another sound in every video: the sound of my own laughter overlaying theirs. For unlike the comedian who delivers their lines deadpan to elicit the greatest laughs from their audience, I am a participant and not a performer to them. I have laughed with my children through all these years. They have given so many opportunities for laughter and delight: the look of surprise when they tasted a lemon for the first time! The marvel of blowing raspberries in their bellies! That giant compendium of 10,000 Jokes for Kids which has taken a dozen road trips! But, they have done more than provide an opportunity for laughter, they have given me permission to laugh like I didn’t before.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me,” writes the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13:11). And maybe, like the years of LEGO, we make a mistake in thinking that silly laughter is something that belongs with our childhood years and should be put behind us. Along with posters of sports heroes and pop stars, ballet shoes and acne cream, stuffies to sleep with and training wheels on bicycles; we put our sense of flamboyant fun and exuberant laughter on the shelf of Things We’ve Moved On From. We have grown up. We have learned to focus and be serious, just like our teachers always told us. Spontaneous Laughter, and its twin Wonder, are things left behind. We don’t crouch low to marvel at roly-polies. We don’t clap for joy just to see a squirrel bound up a tree.
For me, parenting was an invitation to recapture childlike delight: delight in LEGOs, and delight in the beautiful, silly surprises of human existence. There’s a world of difference between childish and childlike, and delight belongs to the latter; laughter to the young at heart. Adolescence involves the work of leaving childhood behind us, but the deep joy of adulthood comes in finding ways to reclaim wonder and laughter in these later decades. Motherhood offered me this invitation, but the simple joy of reclaiming laughter is offered to each of us in ways as unique as we are.
For my unmarried friend George, working with the disabled has brought this same gift of an invitation back to laughter and joy. For Emma, it has taken the form of finding other adult girlfriends for whom Disneyland is still the happiest place on earth and making plans to go. Josh has found it in discovering an adult love for musical theater (after all, Wolverine can also be the Greatest Showman). Amy has found childlike joy in studying butterflies. My friend Elna is in her 60s and says this invitation to joy is the reason she still teaches Sunday school to pint-sized people at her church: because she teaches them about Jesus, and every week they teach her to laugh.
There have been seasons I’ve been parched for joy. Times of trial and conflict and deep stress have wiped laughter from my lips. There have been days and weeks where grief stilled and silenced us, and advice to “cheer up” seemed callous. Attempts at humor were left unfinished on the plate like bland cafeteria food. There is a time for weeping, Ecclesiastes says. In those days, we mourn with those who mourn.
But there came a day when I heard laughter again, and a found a smile on my face, so sudden and shocking it seemed a betrayal to my heart. And, sometime after that, the smile itself blossomed and the laughter was my own again. There is a time for weeping, yes, but there will be a time for laughing, too. Hope bloomed, and laughter returned. Healing began, and laughter played its tune.
This morning at breakfast, my children—much bigger now—got into an argument about something urgent and critical like who would get to use the iPad first. Real insults were hurled, and real tears of frustration were shed. Overfeeding the dog. And who sits in which seat. And who lost whose Pokémon card. Children have brought conflict and tears into our lives in ways we could never have imagined. But minutes later, there it was again: the redemption of laughter. See how silly that singing monster is on the screen? Isn’t it hilarious that your socks don’t match? Knock, knock – who’s there? – Japan – Japan who? – Ja pants are falling down!
And, we throw our heads back and laugh.