Laughing all the Way

Sometime in the next 60-90 days, I will try my last foreseeable case in Maryland’s family law courts. I am ready to be done. In a field where few people last ten years, I’m pushing 25. Time to let somebody else carry this torch, while I get acquainted with more dukes and dunderwhelps.

I’m pondering what lessons I can take away from my tenure representing foster children. If I don’t have me an exit interview, nobody will. I want closure, for one thing, but I also want to memorialize any insights that might help those following after me.

One take-away that was dropped into my lap by a supervisor at Social Services years ago was this: We know which kids are likely to do well after foster care. We can spot them fairly easily because they have two characteristics. Their later success has nothing to do with grades, good looks, skin color, church attendance, intelligence, work habits, or any other typical indicator of success. Not. One. Thing.

The kids who will eventually thrive had two factors going for them. First, somebody modeled to them a consistent, healthy definition of, “I love you.” Might have been a clarinet teacher, an older sibling, a grandparent. Somebody was there for them on the hard days, holding them accountable on the dumb days, and celebrating with them on the good days.

The taxpayer devotes very little money to ensuring foster children are loved. We tend to their needs in terms of care, but love… can money buy that? Many children are fortunate to end up in foster homes where love is available, but one quarter of foster children nationwide end up in foster homes where abuse or neglect reaches the point where the state sees it. (And we do pay for that.)

The second factor that identifies a foster kid headed toward success is a healthy definition of play. Can this kid have fun–belly laughing, whooping-up, gotta-hug-’em, fun–without getting in trouble? Without hurting somebody? Without breaking the law?

We also devote very little money to having fun, but most foster parents instinctively pick up on this one. They know which kids can’t laugh when they walk in the door, and six months later, they notice that a kitten and some string had the kid rolling on the floor.

I am hopeful that as a society, we’re on the verge of realizing that work–while it can be meaningful and enjoyable–does not make us free. Love is a nutrient that we need every bit as much if not more than the basic food groups and a safe place to sleep. Laughter pays certain bills no paycheck ever covered.

And for me, as I head into a time when I have even more control over what I do with my day, I’m thinking about who loves me, who I love, and what my definition of a delightful day is. What makes me laugh? With whom do I share that? One answer is: My characters make me laugh, and I share them with you.

What makes you laugh? What made you laugh as a kid? What made you smile inside as a kid? When was the last time you got the giggles?

To one commenter, I’ll send a print version of Marquessess at the Masquerade, which hits the major platform shelves April 17, and downloads from the website store on April 13. . 

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48 comments on “Laughing all the Way

  1. I love books that make me laugh out loud. Little character quirks or inside jokes. I don’t mind drama and angst in books, but I want it to be tempered with flashes of humor. (And, naturally, a nice HEA.)

  2. A good book can make me laugh. Family antics can make me laugh. Watching my dog play with her buddies makes me laugh. Sunrise and sunset and beautiful days make me smile, which is important, too.

    • One of the points made at this writing seminar was that we don’t put enough humor in our books. Even a tense, tightly paced thriller can use a dose of humor. Gave me something to think about.

  3. Happy Sunday! Thank you so very much for battling in the trenches for those precious children and loving them, it is appreciated by me sincerely and deeply. My legal career in the legal sector as an interpreter/translater/legal assistant was all business but my personal time was in Children’s Ministry since I was about twelve. Children made me laugh and appreciate that I was thankful that the Lord created them. I laugh at the antics of the neighborhood kitty that hides her face and believes that we cannot see her since she cannot see her. I laugh at the King Hawaiian’s commercial of the grandma who wants her rolls even if she gets a red face. And I laugh and cry at wonderful books like the ones that you write. Thank you for your work as an attorney and as an author because you are making a significant impact in both sectors. Have a blessed week!

  4. Grace, thank you for all you’ve done for the children and families. My husband and son make me laugh and smile with pride! I don’t have a very good sense of humor but I have happiness and a lot of pride in my family. I’ve had to learn to look for the humor everyday and enjoy it. I’m still considered too serious though!! Good luck in your retirement from your 25-year alarm clock required job!

    • I’m fortunate to have a good-humored, funny family too. Most of the pleasure in getting together for us is sharing laughs that go way, way back. Nobody else is around who’s known me as long or as well as my siblings, and that is purely grounds to smile when I see them.

  5. I wish you joy and laughter and many adventures in retirement. You have earned them. I spent 45 years in education, and I have great admiration for those who protect and serve our foster children. It is not an easy task, nor one for the faint of heart.

    • Thanks, Polly, and thanks for all those years in the educational trenches, too. Talk about a hard slog… At all levels, education is a challenge, and so, so important.
      I don’t see myself as retiring so much as transitioning to a full time writing career. But yeah… it’s still a change, and a change that involves putting down at least one set of tools.

  6. The msin things that make me laugh are my grandchildren and my cats, one of whom is curled by my right hip as I write this. I also love a good book that makes me laugh and I have a feeling the one you’re giving away will do that.
    I do see I’m behind in ordering/preordering my Grace Burrowes books so I’ll be taking my trusty laptop to McDonald’s later where I can make a list of all your books that I need to buy. I’m going to order at least two a month, one per payday, until I’m caugbt up.

    I’m sure you’ll be missed in the family courts and I’m even more sure you’ll enjoy your retirement. Any chance you’ll get back to publishing a book every other month if not every month?

    • Molly, I don’t know what my publishing schedule will look like once I get the law office wrapped up. Lately, I seem to be publishing about half a million words a year–maybe four novels, three novellas. If that’s all I can ever do, I’m happy with that. That means an average of 2000 words a day, at least five days a week. A brisk pace, but not brutal. Without the law office on my plate, though, could I do more? I’m not sure. Writing is one of those, “You can’t make a baby in one month with nine women,” propositions, though I love to write, and will certainly publish as much as I can without sacrificing quality.

  7. I enjoy watching physical humor. I love Marcel Marceau and Charlie Chaplin. I loved them as a child and love them now. It is with some irony my son with autism (who is non-verbal) also enjoys those silent geniuses and will laugh and laugh…he understands because their comedy transcends words.

    I enjoy (some) Standup comedians and always liked Jerry Seinfeld. I like the observational ones, who find humor in ordinary situations. I have to say I always liked Phillis Diller and Joan Rivers, not just because they were women, but because their observations were relate-able to women.

    Reading Erma Bombeck’s columns and books has me rolling in the aisles! My late mother gave me a copy of her “Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession” the Christmas after my youngest was born(he was two weeks old that Christmas; guess she figured I would need a laugh!). It was a collection of her columns about motherhood. One was about a mother’s death and each of her three sons sitting in her funeral,thinking EACH had been her favorite son….humor and such insight because, if we do it right, those of us with more than one child should make each feel that way. Another was about a mother with a disabled child; again humor and insight. Erma was a genius and knew what was what.

    I laugh at silly. I laugh at mistakes (my own). And I laugh because the sun is shinning brightly and we expect snow!

    • I’ve laughed at Erma Bombeck as well–she’s much missed–and also Dave Berry. I recall when my daughter came across his books, and I could hear her laughing up in her bedroom when I was down in the kitchen. THAT is a great book!

  8. I join the chorus in thanking you for the work you have done for children. I have a nephew, who with his wife, started taking in foster children about a year ago. They so far have taken in a newborn and a 10 month old baby (not at the same time). I admire them. Babies are a lot of work and both of them have other jobs too. But the hardest part has been giving the babies back to their natural mothers. They were hoping to adopt the newborn, but that doesn’t look like it will happen.

    When was the last time I got the giggles? Yesterday, watching an old episode of THE OFFICE on TV. I like to laugh, especially when I am feeling depressed. There is something about honest laughter that brightens the world for me. Probably, has something to do with brain chemistry. I came from a pretty dis-functional family, but we always had laughter in the house. Now that I no longer live with humans, my kitty makes me laugh.

  9. Kid stuff that made me laugh – my Olympic-caliber swimmer Dad tossing me high over the waves to body surf to shore or having me grab his shoulders and hang on as long as I could hold my breath as he swam across the competition pool underwater. Then eating those disgusting orange jelly candies that melted together in the bag while sprawling in the shade of the beach umbrella to catch our breath. Or watching my mom hustle the military flight crews on the base golf course for fun and profit. She always split the proceeds of whatever bet they lost with her. (Think Scarlett O’Hara in a set of garish golf shoes with silly pom poms on her golf club covers and a merciless competitive streak with a driver swing to match.) Dad and I had a conspiracy to distract her from spotting antique store signs as she could whip a U-Turn to shop faster than you could grab for a handhold in the days before seatbelts. We would crow for hours if we succeeded on long road trips. Anyone else who grew up in the southern US have a family competition to spot the South of the Border or Ruby Falls signs? Bonus points awarded for fireworks stands. Triple for Canadian license tags.

    What gives me the giggles now? The silly honking Canada geese in the lake behind my house and their comical waddling up to do a periscopic surveillance of what I’m doing inside the house. Their sheer outrage when I honk back or flap my arms at them in response to their wing flaps at me. This week, it’s my best friend Maria and the antics of her family hiding the black jelly beans from each other and whose stash lasts last. Plus her goofy dogs falling over their own feet.

  10. My father was a great story teller and held children captivated with his exploits in the war and tales of his childhood and hard times.His own grandchildren heard his stories many times but never tired of them,my son adored his grandad and would sit cross legged with the other children and coax his grandad to tell the tale of how he singlehandedly saved the lives of three hundred men in the war___he shot the cook .Children just loved his tales which were very funny sometimes, but they weren’t always sure if they were true or not.He always managed to put a comical twist in the plot and laughter was spread all about.He has been sorely missed by his children grand children and great grandchildren.He saw humour in lots of situations,I think this got him through some tough times in his life and my sister and I try to live with this ethos but he was the master.There is not enough laughter to go around it seems, what can we do?Any ideas folks.

    • I hope you write his stories down, Brenda. It’s very hard to capture humor on paper, but please do try. Oddly enough, the place where I attended my writing seminar, Jonesborogh, Tennessee, considers itself, “The Storytelling Capital of the World.” I blush to admit they had a gift shop…

  11. You always make me think (so do your books). When I think back, I think I had to make my own laughter and happiness. Books, games of any kind, animals. I didn’t have a lot of any of those things but as an adult those 3 things are still very important and I have many books now, care for ferals/strays and take in as many as I can and meet with friends for cards, bowling, and games of any kind. And my children and now my grandson.

    • You remind me that some of my best memories are of snowy Christmas holidays when Mom would set up a card table, and the children would spend HOURS playing Beggar My Neighbor (“I Doubt it”), and hearts. Hearts is still one of my favorite games. I do wonder what games you’ll play with the grandchild….

  12. This is a pretty serious household. We are amused, but don’t laugh much. There is a difference. Some medications make a difference there, too.

    As a family, we probably got and still get the most mileage out of a television program, “Are You Being Served.” MASH and Red Green are up there, too. My husband used to read comic books at bedtime. Now he scrolls through Imgur, mostly for the cat tax.

    Keep your prayers with the kids,Grace, and kudos for sticking with it. Continuity is one of the issues with the system.

  13. The possibility of winning a copy of The Marquesses at the Masquerade is a strong incentive to comment, but I’d do so anyway in light of what you wrote. I stand in admiration of you for being able to devote yourself for so many years to such a demanding and often heart-wrenching profession while simultaneously fulfilling your role as a mother and daughter AND bringing your readers such delight. Like so many of your commenters, its almost always books that bring me to laughter; the other day I was laughing out loud while listening to The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce and my husband kept asking me what was so funny. And my dog always makes me laugh. Thank you for your years of service to Maryland and all the joy you bring to your readers.

  14. Every marriage has its ups and downs and mine certainly has as well but, more often than not, we end the day snuggled up and snort laughing about something absurd or some silliness of an inside joke. I count that as one of the most precious things in my life.

    I also love the Vicar of Dibley, gets me every time.

  15. Grace, along with everyone else I thank you for all those years you put in for those children. To me it has to be one of the hardest careers that is emotionally draining. God bless all those children and you for helping them. I had 5 siblings and I’m grateful for my family because when I look back we had so much laughter and love. And hugs. All things that gave me the strength to get through a rough marriage and being a single parent to 7 children. Thank you for all the hours of reading enjoyment your books have given me. Enjoy your retirement because I’m sure you’ve earned it.

  16. When I was a child I laughed all the time usually at little things. Now most of my laughter is internal during the work day sometimes forced when a customer tells a joke I’ve heard them tell a hundred times. True laughter at work often is caused by the customer’s puppies and dogs and the kitties we have in our adoption room at the store. During out last big family get together my young niece said something and even though it wasn’t particularly funny my daughter and I shared a look and started giggling about it. Every time we looked at each other, it set both of us off again. Since we were on opposite sides of the table, it happened a lot. My niece never noticed.

  17. Funny scenes in movies and books often make me laugh. Our house rabbits are good for laughs, especially when they do something that they didn’t intend to do. As a child I would laugh at the silly things in the Saturday morning cartoons. It didn’t matter how many times I saw the same cartoon, I always laughed. I haven’t gotten the giggles lately.

    • You put me in mind of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Fractured Fairy Tales, both of which can still make me laugh out loud.
      I’ve also had the experience though, of coming back to what was funny, and years later, wondering what had so amused me. There’s a scene in the John Wayne movie, “McClintock” where everybody ends up sliding into the mud. As a kid, that was hilarious. Watched it as an adult… huh?

  18. My husband is a very funny man. I am trying to think of a comment I can share without getting in to trouble. I am taking a class on Russian History. We were studying Ivan the Terrible. I came home and discussed the class with my husband. Was Ivan the Terrible really terrible? I found this question fascinating. My husband without skipping a beat said “Well Ivan the Sassy, just doesn’t have a same ring to it.

  19. My cute 4 year old great niece Lilly makes me laugh. She loves to have me read to her and my pug Olivia Rose. I really enjoy the anthologies and just finished How to Find a Duke in Ten Days!

    • I love the toddler years, but then, I love all the childhood years. Those little people are just so dear and innocent, though. And a thousand blessing upon you, and upon anybody who reads to a child. It’s one of the biggest gifts you can give them.

  20. The word that comes to mind after reading this blog is “light.” You shine a light on what foster children deal with and how that intersected with your life.

  21. I love it when characters’ dialogue has the power to make me laugh and consider that one of the truest hallmarks of excellent writing. A particular set of His Grace of Moreland’s sons, when they get together to commiserate on married life and to plot the next niece’s path to matrimony, never fail in making me grin from ear to ear. When I was little, I remember the Muppets, from both Sesame Street and the Muppet Show, cracking me up constantly. Ernie and Bert, Grover (alone or with absolutely anyone else), Kermit and Miss Piggy, Gonzo, etc. had the power to brighten even my bleakest childhood days with a good belly laugh. Oh, those were the days!

    When is your official last day at the day job? I think we should have an honorary, online tea party to celebrate your tremendous achievement and the legacy of love you have bequeathed to so many kiddos whose lives you changed for the better. You know, Grace, you seem to make a regular habit of making others’ lives better in all your jobs! 🙂

  22. My youngest brother, who would have been 50 in May, died yesterday. He was adopted. Given into our care as a foster baby when he was 6 months old, straight from the hospital. I was twelve – a very mothering age – with two other younger brothers. But Mom always said he was special. We never let him go. He would climb into laundry baskets and pop up with the cutest smile on his face, like it was the most amazing trick in the world. He helped me pack for university, adding his favourite stuffed dog, then changing his mind with the same sweet grin. Going through photos today brought back those smiles.

    • I am so sorry for your loss. I love my brothers so much. Having neither husband nor sons nor father, they are they guys in my life now, even if I see little of them in person.
      I hope as time goes on, you get to keep your brother’s smiles and the wonderful memories, while the heartache of grief subsides. All the hugs to you, and to your family.

  23. Four years ago today, my sister was found dead in an alfalfa field. She had been missing for 2 days.

    Today is the one day all year that I know that I will talk to my dad. We talk frequently, but this is the day that we check in. We shared how I am impatient with this grieving process, and he’s still a little sick with it. We caught up with each other’s lives. (The Navy has taken me to a different state)

    And we laughed.

    We shared inappropriate jokes and stories about my sister. We laughed about my kids, the daughter who is sure the world will order itself to her whims, and the son who lives life a full volume. We laughed about my borother–who has always been a source of laughter.

    What makes me laugh? It’s the little things. You have to be open to the little absurdities and ironies that love gives you. Laughter is medicine.