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"Tears of Joy"

By Dr. La Foo

The six month old baby was very sick, his belly swollen from a liver transplant. His exhausted parents sat vigil nearby, but beckoned me in.

As I slowly approached his crib, the baby looked at my face with an open curiosity. I bent toward him, smiling, took out a little siren whistle, and blew it softly and slowly: "Whooo." Then I paused, listening with full attention and anticipation. I blew it a little louder, "Whooo"... and again paused, raising my eyebrows, widening my eyes. I then blew it a little louder still, followed by another pause, opening my mouth in an expression of surprise, anticipation and wonder. Finally, the full sound - "WhooOOOOoooh....!" a crescendo going higher in pitch and louder, then lower in tone and softer, until slowly fading out. At the completion of the phrase, I was ecstatic - smiling with delight and intrigued to try it again.

This was not mugging, or play acting on my part; babies have no tolerance for that. They can easily spot a phony, and at any sign of apprehension, insincerity or fear, are quick to voice displeasure or fright. I truly enjoy blowing siren whistles and doing other meaningless, silly things repeatedly just for the fun of it. Ask my husband. Ask the clerks and customers in the stores where I buy whoopie cushions.

The baby remained fully attentive, his eyes glued to my face, his smile inviting me to continue. After repeating the whole pattern about three times, he knew what was coming. I did the entire sequence again, and after the pause following the third blow, when the big whistle finally came, he laughed! His shocked parents leaned forward to watch. Each time I repeated this simple sound gag, their baby's laughter grew louder and stronger. Three blows to set the pattern, the fourth blow to break it.

This familiar rhythm and structure is the foundation of every good joke, no matter how sophisticated: set up a pattern or expectation, then do something unexpected or incongruous. I don't know all the philosophical theories and scientific studies about laughter. I do know that I have great luck making babies laugh because for better or worse I have an infantile sense of humor and can count to four.

As a variation of our routine, I tried drawing out the pause a little more before the final blow, which changed the established rhythm. I looked around, curious and a little confused, as if wondering where the sound was. When the sound finally and suddenly came, the baby looked at my utterly astounded expression and belly-laughed, as if this was just the most hilarious thing in the entire universe! As his little Buddha belly jiggled, his laughter filled the room and spilled out into the hallway. The nurses heard and came running in to join us.

I looked at his parents. Tears were streaming down their cheeks. "I don't know how to thank you," his mother said. "That's the first time we've ever heard our baby laugh." I left that room with tears in my eyes, too. This experience was just about as good as it gets.

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