With her wrinkled hand cupped over her mouth, her floral dress would shake as she giggled. My childhood memories of summer weeks spent at my grandmother’s meager Tennessee house are filled with the sound of her laughter and chicken fried crispy in an electric skillet.
She never took me to a theme park, and we didn’t frequent toy aisles. We never had kitchen dance parties, and she spent most of her time cooking and cleaning, but she had a silly streak. She was a storyteller, and her stories comedies. The memories now treasures.
Together on her rusted, metal porch glider, she named the ants that marched near us. Stories of Belinda and Oscar’s ant life made us howl with joy. And the bird on the telephone wire? She whistled and it whistled right back. In her own way, she played with me. She shared her delight and it became mine. She laughed, so I did too.
Now, grown up with a houseful of my own, I’m the family barometer, just as Grandma was.
My heart longs for childhoods filled with laughter, both theirs and mine. Giggles and silliness was always a part of who we are, until somewhere along the way, the seasons changed and I took a detour. Graciously, five-year-old authenticity shook me out of myself just in time.
She beamed about my scrambled eggs. I listened as my sweet Claire spoke precious words about me in a church Mother’s Day video, smiling at her familiar wiggle, and teary at her sincere love for this flawed momma. Then, when asked what makes me laugh, the sting of truth pierced my heart, jolted me to attention, and left guilt spilling wildly out.
“Mommy doesn’t laugh.”
Alongside embarrassment, anger swelled. Despite my sacrificing, I’d been called out. It had been a challenging year for our family, busied with the adoption of two children, and weighted with concern for a medically complex child. Sure, I was distracted at every level and bone weary, but my four kids left the house dressed in almost matching clothes, ate remotely healthy meals, and arrived nearly on time for appointments. Every ounce of myself was spent managing it all, but my little people were still having play time and play dates. Play wasn’t on my concern radar.
“Mommy doesn’t laugh.” It was a flashing yellow caution sign, demanding attention. After tallying excuses for my lack of laughter, still I was guilty as charged.
It was me that wasn’t having fun. Me who had forgotten how to play. My kids were laughing, my husband laughing, but me? Not so much. Blessed? Yes. Chuckling? Nope.
I claim that “play” was always high priority. Lots of space is left for creative, free play and day trip adventures. There isn’t an aquarium, museum, or state park that we haven’t paid admission for. But apparently still, I’d stopped laughing. Though I remembered wipes, snacks, and even toys, playfulness was left behind. No time, no energy, no heart for it. Truth laid vulnerable, Emily Freeman nailed me: “I realize that I am clenching my jaw, moving to the next thing like a chess player. I’ll make this move and then this will happen. I am in control of everything.”
Clearly, nary a snicker escapes clenched jaws, and planning play doesn’t equal playing.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Claire reminded me that it was again playing, laughing and dancing time. My kids need to hear their mother’s belly laugh.
Recollecting treasured Grandma moments, memorable play is mercifully simple, even for busy mommas. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to mean hours spent with Barbie and Ken, because I’m not so great at it. (After their Dream House is live-in ready, I’m over it.) Pinterest worthy PVC pipe backyard water obstacle courses aren’t required either.
They want me, the playful version. Me showing them that no matter what comes, laughing heals. Me unclenching my jaw and delighting in our life. Me being intentional about finding my giggle. Me YouTube-ing favorite comedians and reading funny novels. My kitchen dance parties while the sauce simmers, goofy faces, impromptu puddle jumping, and silly picture book character voices.
Claire loves me no matter the season I’m in, but I wasn’t laughing and she noticed. Sometimes we have to lead our hearts until our lives realign with our desires for them. Mothering still uses me up with its cooking, disciplining, cleaning, and appointments, but I get the giggles more often, and my family does too.