George and Martha and genuine laughter


george and martha 2I read one of James Marshall’s George and Martha books for the first time with E when he was in kindergarten. We were sitting in the beautiful library of the fancy private school where his winter break camp was being held. We had some time to kill, and snuggling up on a couch together and reading a book was much better than shivering at the park across the street, as we’d done the day before. He picked out a book of George and Martha stories, which I vaguely remembered from my own childhood, but that hadn’t yet made it into my kids’ libraries yet. Each of these stories ended abruptly, and, in their abruptness, hilariously. After the first of these weirdly funny endings, I laughed–spontaneously and genuinely–and so did E. I think it was the first time he heard me laugh at a book–just at the book itself, not at his enjoyment or laughter at what we were reading. Of course he’d heard me laugh at the things
he thought were funny: for months, he would dissolve into hysterics when he heard the words “or something,” thanks to the cheeky repetition of this phrase in Kate DiCamillo’s paen to squirrels and poetry, Flora and Ulysses. He laughed uproariously–and, eventually, moved on to relishing the performance of laughing uproariously–whenever he heard these words, and I laughed right along with him. But this moment we shared with Marshall’s hilariously dignified pachyderms was different: in that moment of shared enjoyment, we were equals. I wasn’t laughing down at him, beaming with delight at his happiness–I was laughing with my own happiness, and so was he, and we were together in a new way.


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