Yesterday I had the chance to share my latest picture book (virtually) with two bilingual classes in New Jersey. The second graders were enthusiastic, especially when I held up a snakeskin and the shell of a snapping turtle, my storytelling props. Still, it was hard to connect with the large number of kids, especially those who weren’t fluent in English. Then, I read the page where Paris, a girl from the city, is afraid of the rat-a-tat sounds and the sight of a pileated woodpecker. She calls it a kid-eating pterodactyl. I paused to talk about dinosaurs and one of the students, eyes sparking with mischief, flipped up the hood of his shirt. It was the head of a dinosaur, complete with scales and teeth. Surprised, I threw back my head and laughed. He smiled, joined me in the laughter, and then others did, too. And there it was. The connection.
It reminded of another time when a student, speaking only Spanish, enrolled into my fourth-grade classroom. Unfortunately, I’d chosen to minor in French, not Spanish, and had to rely on my bilingual students to communicate with him. I could only imagine how overwhelmed this boy must be. He had to figure out a new language, meet new kids, and learn the school routine. I wanted him to feel welcome, and for us to make a connection, but didn’t know how to go about it.
Days passed, and I didn’t feel I’d made much progress. Then came “Friday Fun Time.” I’d brought in beach balls. We headed to the playground. The game was to hit the beach ball back and forth to a partner, trying to keep it in the air. I lofted the ball toward my new student. He hit it back, a smile breaking out on his face. Athletic, here was something he was comfortable doing. I returned the ball too low, but he managed to bump it up so it was perfect for me to return. At one point I lofted it badly, more above my heard, and we both prepared to return it at the same time. We bumped shoulders, sharing a laugh. And there it was. The connection.
There’s a proverb that states, “Laughter is a language everyone understands.”
I was fortunate to be with one of my grandsons when he let out his first full-blown laugh. Glen was five months old. I had accompanied my daughter into a restroom to help her change his diaper. She’d set him on his back on the changing table. In the process of the diaper change, she may have tickled him. For whatever reason, he smiled, wiggled, looked at her, and laughed. It was such a contagious, joyous laugh, both she and I joined in. Then, maybe because he loved the sounds we were making together, he laughed even harder. His entire being expressed joy and happiness. Louder and livelier, booming and bubbly, we kept laughing. Glen couldn’t communicate with us yet, but here was something we could share. And there it was. The connection.
No matter how different human beings are, we share the same emotions. Laughter, in any language, at any age, binds us together, creating.treasured moments.