I used to love falling asleep as David read the New Yorker to himself (I still do, it just happens less often). The room would be still and quiet, and then suddenly he would laugh. And I wouldn’t know what he had read that was funny. Sometimes he would tell me, but that wasn’t what mattered. A little moment of private happiness had slipped outside his head, and I was there to hear it.
And now, one of the best sounds I know is Alice’s laughter from another room – a burst of joy that wasn’t meant for me until, too buoyant for her to keep down, it came bouncing through the hallway. Being a participant in her delight is precious, of course. But so is being an observer of it.
Her sense of humor has changed so much in the past couple of months. It used to take active play, intense interaction – silly faces and peek-a-boo – to get her to laugh. That still works best, but she also laughs at little things she hears now and things she sees. The birds making noise outside. Or, do you know that scene in Dumbo when the storks are delivering baby animals to the circus camp? It just kills her when the sack carrying a baby joey falls into the mama kangaroo’s pouch.
My daughter has a fantastic laugh. It rises and breaks and the pieces fall like confetti. There is a line from J.M. Barrie: “When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about …” It’s so sweet you want to groan.
Except that Alice’s is the laugh you hear in your head when you read that line. No kidding.
I heard Alice’s first laugh. I had just finished feeding her. We were sitting in the rocker in the corner of her room. I had lain her on my lap, with her feet against my chest. As as infant, she had been, I suspect, a bit colicky, so this was an unusual moment of calm. I cooed and kissed her cheeks and neck.
And she laughed.
I looked at her, I looked around. I felt like a birdwatcher with a rare sighting and no one nearby to ask, “Did that really happen?” And it is a memory that will sustain me: That she laughed for the first time, and I was holding her in my lap.