Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Giggles

"Mommy, I got a yellow ticket today."

I hear this from Ainsley more than I'd like. Her class's disciplinary system rewards good daily behavior with green tickets and issues yellow, orange, and red tickets for infractions. Yellow is a lower-level offense, like talking or not focusing on your daily work. So unfortunately we see yellow quite a bit.

"What did you do this time?"

"I got the giggles during mass. Something or somebody was making a squeaking sound and it made me laugh and I tried really hard to hold it in but I couldn't."

She was being so serious and earnest; I've never seen her be so sad over a ticket before. Ainsley is devout for a 7-year-old and takes good behavior in church very seriously. I could tell she was upset at herself for being "bad" in the one place she knows she has to be at her best.

As Ainsley was telling me this after school, a fellow teacher and friend of mine was sitting at one of the library's computers. When she heard Ainsley telling me her woeful tale, she caught my eye and started laughing herself.

"I can't tell you the number of times I got in trouble for being loud in mass at school," this former Catholic schoolgirl said after Ainsley walked back into my office to do homework, looking like a whipped puppy. My teacher friend held out her hand at around chest level. "My stack of discipline referrals was probably THIS high."

And yet she turned out alright.

I can't get too mad at the kid over this one. Who among us hasn't gotten the giggles in a completely inappropriate situation? It's not exactly something you can control. Once it starts, you can't stop it. You can't un-ring that bell.

I keep a Tweety PEZ dispenser on my desk at work in honor of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry makes Elaine start laughing at a piano recital with a similar dispenser. Is a Tweety PEZ dispenser funny, in and of itself? No. But if you've ever been made to crack up somewhere where you're really supposed to be quiet, you know that it doesn't have to be something hilarious that sets you off. Even something just curious or mildly amusing can get you going, and just knowing that the social situation you're in demands absolute silence makes the laughter pour out. It's like the little bubbles that come out of a diver's tank underwater; the teeny bubbles erupt and just get bigger and bigger the closer they get to the surface.

And you just can't stop them from escaping.

Being a teacher, it happens almost daily that something makes me want to laugh out loud when I really, really should not. When you teach, you have to get good at controlling 2 things and saving their release for a time you can leave the classroom: laughter, and your bladder. I've gotten good at both. But as a kid I was prone to crack-ups. I was that kid who could be sent over the edge and into hysterics by something like the class clown making an animal noise during a lesson or a well-told fart joke at lunch, so I have no room to go all crazy over Ainsley's infraction.

After all, I, along with my mom, dad, and mom's cousin Emily, did crack up once at the most inappropriate place of all: my maternal grandmother's funeral.

When mom's mom died suddenly of a heart attack when I was in the 6th grade, we were devastated. She was a great woman. Sitting at the funeral home shortly before the service was about to begin, the grief shared between me, my mom, dad, and sister, and mom's cousin-but-also-best-friend was palpable.

Cue one of mom's other cousins, to this day one of the most stylish and glamorous women I've ever known personally, up the aisle of the funeral home to check on how we were doing. In her youth, she always reminded me of a young Liz Taylor; stunning pale eyes, dark hair, and a wealth of diamonds on display.

This woman also had bold tastes in clothing, and even a funeral could not dampen her adventurous fashion spirit. Around her neck she wore one of those over-the-top fox (not faux) fur scarves with the poor animal's head and tail still attached. She looked like a cast member from Dynasty.

She paid her condolences, chatted a while, and then moved up the aisle ahead of us to get to a seat.

"Well," my dad said quietly when we could no longer hear the click-clack of her high-heeled shoes. "Shirley's got her cat on today."

"Oh, Chuck!" mom said, at first appalled at his attempt to make a funny at such a serious moment. But then mom's cousin started giggling. Dad looked down at his lap and smiled. I tried to hold a laugh back behind a tissue. Mom's shoulders began to shake with something other than sobs.

We carried on until the preacher got up to start the service, all the while getting dirty looks from other relatives who did not see the humor in attending the funeral of such a wonderful lady as my mamaw. Tears of grief are acceptable in such a place; tears of laughter aren't. (Though when we talked about the situation on the long drive back to northern Kentucky, mom said that mamaw had a sense of humor and would have been laughing right along with us.)

So compared to how we deal with other disciplinary infractions from school, Ainsley got off pretty light for giggling during church. Jason told me that he, too, got in trouble a lot for laughing during mass; he and his older brothers made a game of trying to make the others break up during the service. Shocker.

We just told her to try to contain herself next time. She promised to. But given her family history...she will lose control again. It's not "if", but "when."

When's the last time you really cracked yourself up in a place or at an event where laughter isn't appropriate? Were you able to stop yourself, or did you make a scene deserving of a Tweety PEZ dispenser award of honor?

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