When my sweet Amanda first came into my life, she was one sad little customer. She was the most beautiful little girl on earth with these big, clear blue eyes and her sleek little tan. But you never saw those eyes light up like they should, like a little girl who was truly happy. A few years later, during the same summer vacation when she first called me "Mom," Amanda and I played around in the surf while my mom watched from the beach. I don't remember why exactly, but we started trying to do the moves from Riverdance, and kept falling down laughing and getting tangled in our own feet. Later that night, my mom pulled me aside: "Melissa," she said, "That's the first time I ever saw her really smile- I mean, she really just lit up with her smile." And she did. She was even more beautiful than ever after she found her smile.
I grew up in a house where we laughed and played a lot. We especially loved playing practical jokes on each other. One of our favorites was to hide this giant, scary, life-size doll around the house. We all agreed that doll was creepy, but imagine pulling back the shower curtain to find her standing there holding a razor, with that super-scary grin on her face and those black Mary Jane's and blue ruffled dress. We also hid plastic animal feces, rubber rodents, and swapped out shampoo for Ranch dressing. Once my sister Becky fed me a dog treat, pretending it was a gourmet brownie from a specialty store.
The strange part is, I never realized how much I rely on laughter and humor until we brought home three little ones who had lived in five consecutive foster homes, and never really understood the meaning of the word "family." The first week the kids were here, I let them jump on the beds, splash me from the bathtub, sing and shout in the car, taste everything with their fingers, and generally just go wild. It was about 90% unplanned and 10% intentional. I mean, I didn't set out to let them go hog-wild, but getting to know them, learn them, and make them feel comfortable was REALLY hard. It was such a zoo here those first few weeks, but we made it. And one memory of Big C stands out in my mind during those first few weeks. He had just gotten used to calling me "Mommy," and had come to understand that we were serious about taking care of him and his siblings. It was during his bath one night when Porky had come in the bathroom to supervise. I don't know if all Rotties love water, but this one does, and when she saw the boys splashing in the bathtub, she just had to join in. So as the boys splashed, Porky jumped up and tried to bite the water with each splash. The boys were scared at first, not understanding what she was doing, but I explained that she just loves to play with water, and as I laughed, the boys started giggling, and as the giggles turned to big belly laughs, the splashes got bigger, the walls got wetter, and we were all pretty much soaked- including the dog, who was having a blast. After getting out of the bath, Big C was running wild, still overwhelmed with hysterical laughter. I held out his pajama shirt like a bullfighter and called "Toro, Toro! Olay, Olay!" and he ran (head first) into the pajamas. We both fell down with laughter, and he begged me to use the bullfighter voice over and over. When it seemed that the party was getting too wild, I lowered my voice and sat in the recliner while he pulled on his pajama pants. "Okay," I told him, "It's time to settle down. Let's calm down, now. Come sit with me and let's rock" But he was only getting started. Laughter was his new drug, and he was hooked. He took my face in his two hands and got really close to me before he said: "Mommy, laugh! Keep laughing! I love it when you laugh!"
It's a miracle I didn't cry.
How long did I take for granted the security of the happy, healthy, sometimes hysterical family that I grew up in? For how many years did I forget that not all kids are so fortunate? Some kids have never had a mommy or daddy who laugh, who love to laugh, to share stories, jokes, pranks, and silly songs? Many children live with parents too consumed by their own personal issues and problems to giggle and tell jokes with their kids. Some little ones have only heard mom and dad scream, cry, fight, cuss, lie, use profanity, tell vulgar jokes, or speak to one another abusively.
I believe laughter has healing power. The laughter of these little ones in my home and my heart is healing me. They are day by day, systematically healing the wounds and scars that I bear from the heartache of infertility and pregnancy loss. When little C comes running into my arms and says "Tell me the snake secret!" with a huge beautiful smile, I know exactly what to do. I lean over and gather him close to me, put my mouth up to his ear and hiss "Sssssssssssssssssss!" That's the snake's secret! And it works like a charm! We both laugh, and we are both made stronger.