Should any young parents have wandered into this column of the Third Age, I beg you to listen to me this once. Do not punish or even reprove your children when they have fits of the giggles.
Yes, I know it can be irritating. I can see your pursed lips. I can hear you about to say, “But you, old person, don’t have to put up with it.” And, “It goes on and on, until I could scream.” And, “You ask them what it’s about and that just sets them off again.” Ask yourself how long it is since you had a fit of the giggles. I know, it sounds ridiculous. Giggles are annoying and ridiculous but they serve a purpose.
They can save you from worse things. Not long ago, I was ready to strangle three little primary school-age kids in a coffee shop. I was ready to strangle them as the giggles came in bursts, making reading impossible. I wanted to read about what the Treasurer said to the Prime Minister or some such important thing. It seemed like my chair and table were shaking. “It’s giggle – gabble – gobble – ‘n’ git,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, author of The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table. I was thoroughly peeved. Then it was over and I realised the kids, heads closer, were now talking about something that had upset them at school. The giggles had broken the tension so they could talk about what they were feeling. Was it bullying? Was it a teacher – student upset? I wished they would giggle again.
Being young is being able to giggle.
I was feeling tense about something myself and suddenly longed for someone to have a giggle with. A few days later, I was in the line-up at Government House feeling tense. I was about to receive a medal. I was seated away from my family as were others waiting to be honoured. I felt old and emotional. Everything conspired against me. The Government House staff were just too kind; the audience applauded each recipient with beautiful warmth. The Governor is a wizard at saying friendly, delightful things. After receiving their honours, people young and old, the halt and the lame, the brave and the clever beamed.
My grandson, in his school uniform, sitting a little way in front of me, waiting for his grandma’s turn, looked… well, grandmas will know how he looked. A little tense, a little proud. A little thought or two about soccer that might have made that right leg swing a bit.
And of course he didn’t giggle, but I suddenly wished I could. A good giggle would control this terribly welling up in my chest: this feeling that love was all around and people too good and kind. It was quite terrible. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. Would I cry? Out of the question. Messy. I pinched my own arm, feeling stupid as well as emotional. I was scared I would let out a wail and shame my grandson forever.
Sitting next to me, perfectly composed, were a woman and a man about to be medalled for bravery! I felt so small that making a break for the door seemed almost possible.
From somewhere came the thought of the giggling schoolkids; their tension released by their absurd hyena bursts until sanity prevailed again. Giggling, I realised then (was able to recall now, in this solemn ceremony), is a release from tension. Not an option, of course, in Government House ballroom, but internal giggling was definitely a possibility.
It didn’t show (being old gives you that much control), but it got rid of that welling-chest feeling, and when I was summoned, I managed to smile at my grandson (who instantly looked relieved) and neither sob nor stumble down the aisle.
Giggling is for kids. It has a purpose. Internal giggling is for grandmas, to stop them from making goats of themselves. It served my purpose.
What did I giggle about while managing to keep my face stern and straight? I thought of The Man Who Is Glad He is Not Married to Me, who described himself thus in green ink in letters objecting to my columns about feminism in the ‘80s. What if he popped up as the Governor produced my pin and said, “Your Excellency, I object!?”
No disrespect for a serious and wonderful ceremony. But I needed something to get me through it. An imagined giggle did the trick.
So let the kids have a giggle to help them navigate the shoals of childhood. They might be grandmas dealing with getting a medal one day.