A little bit of laughter (or sometimes a lot) goes a long way

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by Helen Baldwin |

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Our spring break kicked off on April 6 with an early release for students. I fell into the lengthy car line at 11:30 a.m. to pick up our grandkids, Clara, a first grader, and James, who’s in pre-K.

Both had been giddily counting down to this time for days, especially James, who mistakenly thought it was summer break. I thought we’d celebrate by picking something up from Wendy’s. We’d drop lunch off at my house for PopPop (my husband, Randy) and the friend helping him with a construction project. Then we’d head to Clara and James’ house down the road.

Picking them up in the car line was a breeze. Driving to the school parking lot so James could buckle up was a breeze. Pulling out of the parking lot? Not so much.

Before I could ask how their respective mornings had gone, Clara snapped that James had pink eye again (“so don’t touch me!”), and James barked that he did not have pink eye again. Clara pouted that she wasn’t hungry because she’d already eaten lunch, but she could force herself to take a Chocolate Frosty. James rattled off his usual order from Wendy’s because even though he’d had lunch with pizza, carrots, and peas, he didn’t eat the carrots or peas. Clara grumbled that they’d have to go to the dentist over spring break, and James adamantly argued, “WE DO NOT!” Then Clara snagged more violin strings with a mention of her appointment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to monitor her Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome. James then took his shoes off and waved one in Clara’s face, which prompted a deafening, “JAMES, STOP IT! STOP WAVING YOUR PINK EYE SHOE IN MY FACE!”

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James managed another “pink eye shoe” taunt before I firmly told him to stop waving his shoe in Clara’s face. I could see in the rearview mirror that he was now on the brink of tears, so I asked Clara if she also had her shoes off, knowing full well that she had probably taken hers off first. She squealed that she did, then James’ hearty laugh commenced.

I breathed a sigh of relief and wondered if it was a full moon. Indeed, it was full (and pink!), but it didn’t matter. The mood in the back seat had flipped 180 degrees, and neither Clara nor James could stop howling deliriously about anything and everything. Most topics would likely be deemed highly inappropriate for the dinner table, but by that point, I didn’t care.

I thanked God for laughter’s magnificent ability to diffuse almost any unpleasant situation.

There was something funny during 2020?

When the coronavirus bulldozed life as we knew it three years ago, I don’t remember too much optimism that the surreal 2020 would ever end. And if it did, what would 2021 be like? More masks? Additional isolation? Continued stressful decisions?

COVID-19 may have kept us somewhat uptight back then, but Clara’s 4-year-old wit and James’ 2-year-old antics helped to keep our family upright. Clara was genuinely thankful to score what she thought was a cough drop (aka a Jolly Rancher) in a 2020 Easter egg, deeming herself subsequently better prepared for anything the “coronaviruth” threw her way. She probably could have used a real cough drop after this year’s egg hunt in the frigid rain.

Although the world these days seems to be held together with scraps of frayed duct tape and a prayer, there are still things that can make us laugh. We just need to be alert.

Laughter as the unlikely saving grace during despair

I was fortunate to have been brought up in a family blessed with delightful, contagious laughs. I admit that I took for granted the ability to laugh easily, not fully appreciating my good fortune until after our third baby, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with SMA.

Oh, I don’t mean I laughed when the pediatric neurologist handed us the golden ticket to the SMA community. And I certainly didn’t when he pretty much assured us we wouldn’t have our sweet baby with us long in the earthly sense. The devastating news sparked tears upon tears of utter disbelief.

At some point, though, laughter returned. Jeffrey’s older siblings, Matthew and Katie, inadvertently provided humorous moments that in turn balanced the overwhelming grief with impressive precision. Ruthie, a beloved assistant during my teaching days at Brockman School in Columbia, South Carolina, called after learning about Jeffrey’s diagnosis. She wanted to know what I needed and how she could help. I told her that she could keep sending her usual funny cards and letters.

She replied incredulously, “Really?” I imagine she thought I was in complete and hopeless denial of the unimaginable situation at hand. Granted, it was likewise a shock to me to realize that even in despair, I craved laughter then. I still do.

Just don’t try waving your pink eye shoe in my face.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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