Smile Side of Life Laughter & Happiness Club

Smile Side of Life Laughter & Happiness Club
This way to the Smile Side of Life

Monday, June 18, 2018

“Shape Up or Ship Out”*

Spoken to me, at 11 years of age, I had no idea of its military origin, but understood the terrible meaning. Behave, or end up somewhere else much worse. The second part of the threat solidified that idea. “Or we’ll move away and leave you behind.”

The threat was rooted in real life. The Brooklyn townhouse was sold, a house in the Jersey suburbs purchased, and for some reason unfathomable to me, my very existence seemed offensive.

He had been in the Marines, my stepfather, and the wedding picture with  my mother showed him in full dress blues. He had tattoos on his arms; one that I would learn was his serial number, in case his body was otherwise unidentifiable. His father had abandoned his family when he was very young, and his mother had become a hard disciplinarian in order to keep 6 kids in line. He joined the Marines so young his mother had to sign the papers. So, resorting to military-style ordering of me around probably came naturally. But at age 11, I didn’t know any of this. All I knew was, this man suddenly seemed like he couldn’t stand the sight of me. The man I had so joyously bragged about on the subway, “Now I have a daddy!” (An incident that caused my red-faced aunt to explain to the entire subway car that my father had died when I was only weeks old, and my mother had just remarried. It was the 50s, after all.)

At night, I laid awake, afraid to go to sleep, lest the family sneak out without me in the middle of the night. The idea that I would be separated from my parents, no matter how mad they were at me, filled me with dread. Where would I go? What would I do? Who would take care of me? I prayed my rosary, pleading with the Blessed Mother to help me be good enough to go and live in New Jersey.

Fear of abandonment is a real issue for children who sense any sort of instability in their lives. It leads them to endure abuse, protect addicted parents, and take care of younger siblings. The idea of being torn from the family is that strong.

When my younger sister and I were sent to live with my stepfather’s sister for a few weeks, the terror came with me. I tried to stifle it by telling myself that they would certainly come back for her, if not for me. And if this aunt I hardly knew gave a good report, then they would take me, too.

Years later, I would feel those words echo in my head when reading stories, such as “A Christmas Carol.” I cried at the part where the young Ebenezer was left, alone, at boarding school, holiday after holiday.

I even developed a kind of magical thinking when I had children of my own – that as long as they were with me, or I knew exactly where they were and when they were coming back, they were safe. I tell myself I did a pretty good job hiding that as my kids grew up, they might say different. Today, that anxiety returns if one of my grown up children is more than an hour’s driving distance from me.  Having one live somewhere that requires airfare is really tough, and I am grateful for Face Time.

This personal history has contributed to a high level of distress, empathy and concern over the recent treatment of children at America’s border. I know how it was to live under the threat of being separated from my parents. Having it actually happen in this way is truly child abuse.

We learned after the London Blitz, when children who were evacuated from London alone, were compared to those children who stayed with their parents, the evacuated children had more trauma than those who rushed to air raid shelters with their parents, as bombs rained around them. And there are plenty of other studies that look at separation trauma.

This bargaining ploy instituted by our government, a way to force battling politicians to sit down and fall in line with other controversial policies and projects, uses children as bait. They have committed no crime, yet, they are imprisoned. They are torn from parents, who are charged, not convicted, of a misdemeanor, and given no recourse. Even murderers get bailed out sometimes. Racketeers wear ankle bracelets and stay in their palatial homes. These children have no such ways to mitigate their situations. And I not only fear their lasting trauma, but how they may visit their anger on America when they get older.

I hear them crying. I feel their tears on my face. I know the nightmares, the sleeplessness and the anxiety. I fear that some are so young, they will, in self-defense, forget their parents, or never be able to properly bond with them when they are reunited. The trauma created by this cruel and unusual punishment may last their entire lives. The price of trying to prove a point is too high.

* It is a phrase of World War II in America when armed forces first used this command. It suggested that the sailors, soldiers or marines are warned to adapt according to the rules and regulations or rightfully perform their tasks they are supposed to, if they are to stay in the field otherwise they would be expelled or sent to back zone. Later the phrase was expanded to include all areas in which improvement and performances were demanded.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Summertime and the Laughing is Easy!

And a picture from the recent Laughter Yoga Playshop I just attended. Hobnobbing with my fellow Laughter Wizards!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Broken Foot Laughter! For World Laughter Day!

Here is Last year's video—when I couldn't get out for World Laughter Day—reposted for those of you who can't get to a local celebration. Laughter is the universal language that can enhance peace, personal well being and physical health.

Join me on Friday, May 11, 2018 at Paint the Mall Purple - A Recovery & Mental Health Awareness Event at Freehold Mall in Freehold, New Jersey. I'll be speaking about Laughter Wellness at 5:30 PM. Let's laugh together for the health of it!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

An Adventure at the Ho-Ho-Hospital

Hospital Feet ©2018 Noreen Braman
The pain was no laughing matter – not like hitting your “funny bone” or tripping over some invisible thing on the sidewalk. Not even like the old slipping-on-a-banana-peel routine. This was full-on get-me-to-the-ER-on-time pain. As a Laughter Wellness Instructor I felt betrayed by the “laughter is the best medicine” philosophy. What was so funny about this?

As I arrived at the hospital, I suddenly remember the same trip, almost exactly one year earlier. The day I stepped down the one step in front of my house, turned my foot in a nauseous un-natural way, breaking my 5th metatarsal. That was crawl-into-the-house-before-I-faint-or-vomit pain. I realized that T.S. Eliot had it right, April is the cruelest month. You would think my birth month would treat me better. It wasn’t a belly laugh moment, but it made me smile. And we all know what smiling does – tells the brain to release some feel-good endorphins.

I kept that smile on my face, not sure if it was more like a grimace. I presented that face to the hospital receptionist. “How are you?” she asked. “I’ve been better,” I replied. She smiled in return. Bingo! Mirror neurons firing off more endorphins.

The triage nurse and I chuckled about the name of my primary doctor’s practice group, still named after their town of origination. They had since moved from there, and the nurse laughed because he had been wondering how good those doctors are that I would travel so far. Endorphins!

More laughter on the way to the x-ray when the person pushing my gurney through an equipment-clogged hallway took out an entire computer workstation, sending pieces of the workstation and papers flying.  “Oh, that is something I would so do!” I said. Laughter for her, laughter for me.

The pain was still there, a hot sword in my back, however, the humor, laughter and smiling, that I was purposely keeping my brain busy with, was distracting me. Every so often it would viciously grab my attention, but the smiling and laughing was giving me some respite. Not a cure, but surely a part of the whole treatment picture.

Hospital Still Life ©2018 Noreen Braman
MRIs are not technically painful, but can be uncomfortable and anxiety inducing. I’ve developed my own form of meditation to calm myself and keep from moving. Using a laughter yoga chant, I take a deep breath and begin to recite “Ho Ho Ha Ha” in my mind. Memories of groups I have lead in this dancing chant exercise fill my mind and I can actually feel the joyful, creative movement. If headphones with music are available, I request something lively, and keep my chant in time to the music. If not, I try to keep time with the percussive jazz sounds of the MRI machine. Beeps, buzzes, thumps and bangs. I imagine Buddy Rich or the Blue Man Group drumming on the outside of the MRI tube, and it takes some of the scariness out of the cacophony.

One of the technicians remembered Laughter Yoga from her childhood in India when I mentioned to them how I was distracting myself in the tube. She recalled going to the park and “just laughing and laughing.” Great memory for her, smiles all around, and more endorphins for me.

Today I am home resting, and my pain level has been greatly reduced. As I settled myself into the couch this morning, with my computer, cell phone, coffee and cable television, I heard something familiar. On a courtroom show called “Hot Bench,” one of the judges was complimenting a plaintiff on her smiling, laughter and positivity, even in the face of a losing case. “Just remember,” the judge said, “Laughter is the best medicine, so keep on doing that.”  Thanks for the reminder, Judge DiMango; I’ll do my best.
Hospital Window View ©2018 Noreen Braman

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Path of Pain NAPOWRIMO April 28, 2018

NAPOWRIMO April 28, 2018

The Path of Pain

A line drawn through nerves
electrical sensations that course
with lightning speed to the brain
cascading back along the same path
recharging at the source.

©2018 Noreen Braman

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thoughts After a 9/11 Memorial 5k NAPOWRIMO 4-23-18

Photo ©2018 Noreen Braman
Thoughts After a 9/11 Memorial 5k

Cushioned socks and sneakers
to take me 3.2 miles
on a clear sky, sunny day
to remember.

Staircases descended by those in fear
staircases ascended by the calm and brave
all who expected to see sunrise the next day
are remembered.

Upward looks take in the new building
far gazes behold Liberty
internally, visions of dust and debris
swirl in the mist of remembrance.

Walking in the shadows of restoration
much more that the raising of skyscrapers
powerless to raise the dead
the rebuilding of life is the duty
to memory.

©2018 Noreen Braman