Saturday, April 9, 2011

Laughter and Tears

Last week I was having a kind of weepy day, one of those stretches of time when honestly, I was not very fun to be around. The thing is, I was tired of feeling that way, but couldn't seem to snap out of it. I mean, I did enough to act like a grown-up. But inside I still felt utter crap.

After lunch somehow Ethan and I got playing with the toy animals and farm. This doesn't happen very often, as I've kind of given up pushing too much traditional "pretend play" on Ethan unless he's really interested, especially pretend play that doesn't involve trains or the Wonder Pets. But for some reason Ethan wanted to take out the barn, and then smash the barn (which I turned into "Ethan the Monster smashes the barn!") and it was good, really good. We had a mommy, daddy, and baby horsey. We had some sort of strange game going that would alternate between the toy animals and Ethan turning into a monster and trying to eat me. And we had Ethan's rooster.

You could say there is an ongoing joke about Ethan and roosters. When he was a baby, he used to come out with this strange cry in which he'd appear to be not breathing and then let out this squelched, squawking noise that indeed sounded very much like a rooster. After awhile we'd call him that sometimes -- rooster. So go figure that Ethan would grow to love the rooster most of all, on real life barn visits or in Farmer Old McDonald's role call of animals. Rooster always has to go first in the song. Ethan often goes back and forth on whether or not the rooster should make a ho-hum "cock-a-doodle-do" noise or the more realistic squawk, which I just realized I can't really figure out letters for. And he suddenly likes his Fisher Price red rooster.

So we were playing on the floor and Ethan was announcing, "The rooster says..." and suddenly out of his mouth came the largest burp I'd ever heard him utter.

I am not usually the one to get all goofy over bathroom humor or bodily functions but at the same time both Ethan and I found this hysterically funny. "The rooster says -- BURP!" he said again, and we both doubled over. Then I said it. Somehow, this wasn't getting old. Ethan was laughing so hard he could barely breathe. So was I. I was, in fact, laughing so hard there were little slivers of tears in my eyes. "The rooster says -- BURP!" I felt like I was in seventh grade again, almost peeing my pants in the Springfield Library because my friends and I had photocopied our lips and given the paper to a cute boy. Pure, unabashed, foolish, silly, carefree laughter.

Children laugh hundreds of times in a day, I recently read. As I sat there on the floor in hysterics with Ethan, I realized how badly I needed to laugh more. Maybe not hundreds of times. How about more than 10?

Later that very night we were reading "The Very Busy Spider" and Anna was getting in on the fun. By fun I mean that we realized Ethan has this uncanny ability to well, emote. Whenever we'd get to the last page of the book ("Whoo! Whoo!" said the owl. "Who made this web?") Ethan would suddenly say, "It's night time." (The last page switches from day to night.) And his face would get long and sad, and he'd whisper something about the book being all done, and he'd have actual, honest-to-goodness tears in his eyes. Two seconds later, if we went back to the front of the book, he'd transform in a happy, cheerful boy once more, ready to read.

This turned out to be a fun game that Anna and Ethan decided to play over and over, going straight to the end of the book, jumping from laughter to tears and then back again. I sat there, on the kitchen floor of all places, and got to thinking. First, I was amazed at Ethan's understanding of emotions. These autism cliches are often, well, just that. Not every kid with autism does not understand facial expressions, or I should say does not lack the capability to comprehend facial expressions and emotions. Earlier in the day during our rooster/monster game, Ethan had asked me to do the surprised face when the monster was acting bad, and the scared face. Yes, it's true this is something we've talked about and I've had to specifically model in the past. Maybe it didn't come as naturally to him. But with time and a little practice, he's "getting it."

But more than that I was thinking of the very fine line that exists between laughter and tears...about the way a good laugh can bring the tears on, and about how smiling at something and interrupting a good cry can make all the difference in one's demeanor. If only we could realize how fragile each state is. When we're having one of those belly laughs, when we're just exploding inside with joy, if we could just remember to make it last, to hold on to the moment, because that times is fleeting. But in the same respect, when we are in our greatest moments of despair, when the world seems bleak, when we feel as if the tears may not stop, when the hurt feels so is closer than we think. Laughter is lurking somewhere just on the other side of things.

I love the way laughter and tears do this wonderful dance. They are intertwined the way our lives are wonderfully, painfully, beautifully woven with both sorrows and sweet moments. And whichever side we are dwelling on, we would do well to remember, "this too shall pass."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

beautiful post. i love how you call it a dance. i'm learning too how close joy and sorrow can be. and it's a good thing. there's a song based on a Puritan prayer i love, (
"... the broken heart is the healed heart, let me find Your joy in my sorrow..."
such a sweet moment for you and ethan.