My daughter did, just like she did yesterday and the day before that, and the day before that too.
Did someone tell her a joke? There’s no one else in her room. Did she remember something funny she saw the day before? Perhaps. Not sure.
Maybe she was thinking about the bus journey to school and how bumpy it feels as she rides, strapped into her wheelchair. Or maybe she was thinking about the funny songs the Music Man sang to her when he came to her class; especially that one about the pirates- that’s funny. Or maybe it was the sheep on the farm she visits, or the goat that jumped on the trampoline with her one day. Whoever heard of such a thing?! Maybe it’s the strange plaster casts on both her legs that she currently has to wear. They do look kind of funny I suppose.
It’s no good asking her, she cannot give an answer. Though she is nearly eight years old, she has no words you see. And right now, only laughter.
Sometimes she is sad. Sometimes she is grumpy. Sometimes she is in pain. Sometimes she is tired.
Just like you, just like me.
A range of emotions.
But because she is non verbal she has to express them differently.
Unlike you, unlike me.
But laughter, chuckling, giggling, rib tickling, snort inducing, full on raucous belly laughter is very often her first emotion of the day. I’d love to know what makes her laugh.
Did you wake up laughing today? Or did your thoughts turn immediately to worries?
Fears of the future perhaps, or just concerns about the day ahead. So much to do, so much to accomplish. What ifs and what abouts firing off in all directions in your head before your feet have even hit the floor.
My daughter woke up laughing.
My daughter has Down’s syndrome. Many people think her life is not worth living. They think she would be better off not being born. They called her life a ‘risk’. They said she is abnormal. They spoke as if giving birth to her was some great tragedy.
What makes you laugh? I mean really laugh. Out loud. Guffaw. Face-achingly so.
Slapstick humour? A pie to the face? Or a slip up on a banana skin? The sort that only happens in cartoons….except when it happened to my husband a few years ago, and I’m still laughing.
Or perhaps it’s wit. Great British sarcasm or irony. An evening on Twitter can provide an endless source of amusement, especially in the field of politics, if that’s your thing. And as for US President, Donald Trump…his surname alone provides great joy and laughter for the eight year old in my house.
For my younger daughter, Hazel, with her extra chromosome, I really don’t know what makes her laugh. All I know is, she does. Often.
Laugh. Giggle. Snort. Belly laugh.
She somehow missed the memo about suffering (you know – the one given out with the advice to pregnant women about their risk of having a baby with Down’s syndrome.) But what is she laughing at or about? I genuinely don’t know ninety percent of the time. It’s a mystery. Lately, she’s been waking up giggling. Laughing, alone, in her cot bed. At what?
No idea. But it triggers more laughter. It’s contagious. One by one, we go down with the same condition. We just don’t know why.
Often, she’ll start laughing at other random moments of the day. Really laughing. Again, I have no idea why. There are no visual clues. Nothing funny has happened. No slapstick or custard pies to be seen. Nobody has fallen over or stubbed their toe. No one has made any rude noises or said the word poo. No one has told a joke – even if they did I doubt she would understand a word of it, and our jokes aren’t usually that funny! And, as she has very little speech, it’s not as if she can tell me what’s so funny.
Share the joke Hazel.
There are, of course, many occasions when we can see the reason for the joy.
Her older sister can be guaranteed to extract laughter from her in that special way only siblings do. The bond is tangible and strong. Clearly, her sister missed that memo…you know, the one about how the siblings will suffer.
Then there was the time recently when a dear friend came to visit and joined in with the bathtime routine. Much hilarity and joy as our friend – who just so happens to make people laugh for a living – introduced a song and a dance to the proceedings. Laughter like we’d never heard coming from the tub. You really know how to extract the laughter from her, say I. It’s kind of what we comics do says she.
Extracting the laughter. That need, sometimes, to go after the joy. To find it, work for it and revel in it. Life is hard, we may forget to laugh and not experience its benefits.
According to one study: Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humour lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. It also helps you to release anger and be more forgiving.
In Hazel, the laughter has just been there. I haven’t had to try too hard at all, though I sometimes wish I knew what or who was extracting it! I often pray that she will be surrounded by Angels, seen and unseen. Only now, I wonder if God has assigned her to the safe keeping of the heavenly host’s comedy division – after all, someone’s making her giggle when no one else is around!
Hazel laughs. She also cries. She experiences a whole range of emotions. She knows pain and she does know a degree of suffering, I won’t deny that. In a day of laughter and giggling, like today, there has also been pain and discomfort as she went through yet another feeding tube change. She cried. I cried. How I long for the day when she no longer needs a tube in her stomach to keep her alive. This week alone she has three hospital appointments, none of which will be a walk in the park, for her or me.
Still she laughs. And we laugh with her. Far more than we ever did before she became part of our lives. Far more than we ever cry.
The risk of laughter…side splitting, face aching, snort inducing laughter is never far away. It seems Hazel is way ahead of most people without an extra chromosome on so many levels. She does joy rather well. Joy inspite of pain. Joy alongside pain. Joy triumphing over pain.
For any expectant parents who may be reading this and are faced with this risk, let me be clear. The stakes are very high. Joyously so.