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Alice Upside Down or How Becoming a Grandparent Gave Me a New Way of Looking at the World

By Ron Cichowicz

For the better part of four decades, I have—through articles and speaking engagements—encouraged everyone to find the funny side of life. Like you, I’ve always appreciated laughing for the pure joy of it. It was only later in life that research convinced me that laughter is a terrific tonic for mind, body and soul.

But I have to admit, the older you get, often the harder it becomes to practice what you preach. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week news and commentary bombardment could convince even Pollyanna to think about staying in bed or kicking her dog. It’s not difficult over time to begin to absorb the “gloom and doom” messaging and to see the world as anything but humorous.

I was close (okay, not really real close), to joining the naysayers, all day clicking from one cable news channel to the other or listening to R.E.M. sing “Everybody Hurts.” (If you don’t know it, Google it. A bit depressing, but a really good song.)

“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” I began to think.

But thankfully I was pulled from that moody, depressing abyss with the arrival of our first grandchild, Alice. I know all grandparents are biased, but upon her entry into the world, Alice really was the most beautiful child on the planet.

But more than that, she is a now walking, talking bundle of fun and optimism.

I learned this early when my wife and I babysat the 6-month-old Alice. While trying to keep her constantly amused (peek-a-boo, making faces, pretending to eat her toes), I tried something my dad used on me back when most TVs were still black and white and we had to get up to change channels. You know: The Dark Ages.

Cradling Alice’s head ever so carefully, I leaned just bit forward so that her head was just slightly lower than her feet. After a few seconds, like an airline tray, I returned Alice to the upright position. I saw a huge smile. And I saw a look on her face that said, “Again.”

Another quick dip. Her thin hair flapped slightly and I could feel the excitement and absolute joy ripple through her little body. A great thing about kids: they live in the moment. When they find something they enjoy, they want to do it over and over and over again. So, we played “Alice Upside Down”—the name I gave the game because, well, I am really creative! - until my back couldn’t take it anymore. I ended the session by trying to explain to Alice that she was exhausted.

Since that day, Alice continues to find pure joy in regularly viewing the world upside down. Sometimes her dad or one of her big, strong uncles will accommodate her; sometimes she just slides head-first off the couch until she feels the floor.

I think the vantage point fascinates her, seeing the familiar stood on its head. It’s a lesson she’s taught me: Sometimes the most challenging problems don’t look so imposing if we try looking at them from a different perspective and creative solutions can flow when viewed from different angles. Or, as Monty Python suggests, “Always look on the bright side of life.” (Google that one, too. Guaranteed to get you whistling!)

When I’ve given presentations on the benefits of humor, I usually conclude by offering tips on how to bring more laughter and light-heartedness into your life. One of those tips is to spend time with kids, because their pure love of all things fun and funny is contagious.

Now I’m thinking of adding another suggestion, for those physically able, with a doctor’s permission and wearing a helmet (you can’t be too careful these days!): find a swing set or low hanging tree branch, climb on it and dangle upside down for a few minutes. It will give you a new perspective, it could clear your sinuses … and it might even introduce you to new friends when you call for help to get down!

So, if it’s true that you’re never too old to learn, then maybe you’re never too young to teach. I’m fortunate to have one of the best teachers: Alice Upside Down.”

Ron Cichowicz is a Pittsburgh-based writer, humorist and communications consultant. He can be reached at roncichowicz@verzion.net.

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