"I just love people with Down syndrome. They are always so happy!"
I can't tell you how many times I've heard that stereotype.
And it isn't a bad stereotype ... I mean, I'm not terribly upset that people have that misconception about my daughter. If there was a stereotype that went something like, "People with Down syndrome are always so rude", I would probably be a little more distressed.
Having said that...I guess the reason the always happy stereotype sometimes rattles me, is that I want people to understand that Lily is a person. She's not a grinning zombie, oblivious to the world around her, happily stumbling through life like Mr. Magoo... she's a whole person.
Meaning she has a whole range of emotions, from irritated to elated, from joyful to ticked, and on any given day we will see the entire gamut of emotions displayed. She has a personality. She has preferences. She loves cheerios and watermelon and snow peas and hamburgers and salad. She hates cucumbers and meat loaf and bananas and any kind of cereal other than plain cheerios. (Try to sneak a bowl of honey nut cheerios in, and she will spit them out and yell "NO WANT IT!". With a vengeance.)
And don't ever, ever come between this girl and her chocolate cake...
She is a person.
She gets grumpy if she hasn't had a nap, she gets mad if her sibling takes her toy away, she cries when her older sister leaves for work, she gets shy around people she doesn't really know, she is whiny when she is hungry, and sometimes she throws a fit when it's time to brush her teeth.
Okay, I lied. She always throws a fit when it's time to brush her teeth.
And she hates it when you tell her not to run in the street.....
Along with all of those other emotions, she does exhibit a wide range of happier feelings as well. And yes, I would have to admit - I see something in my child with Down syndrome that is perhaps lacking in my other ten kids.
She forgives easily - she never holds a grudge. We can coax her out of a bad mood quite easily by offering to read her a story or having a tickle session or....gasp...giving her a cookie. She gets over things more quickly than my other children, she goes with the flow more readily, and she rarely lashes out in anger physically. There seems to be something in her personality that loves unconditionally...she's only three, but so far she seems to move from a conflict with another child to affection quite smoothly. In fact, she is the most affectionate of all my children, lavishing hugs and kisses on each of us throughout the day. She smiles more than the rest of us, laughs more, enjoys snuggling more than any of my children.
So what am I trying to say?
I think that there is some truth to that stereotype about people with Down syndrome, as far as the capacity to love more, to smile more, and yes...to be happier.
But what I hope people see beyond that, is that people with Down syndrome are people just like you and me.
My daughter has a mind of her own, she has the capacity to feel a whole range of emotions, and she is very much her own person... a whole person.
And I want her to be treated that way.
Because we treat people the way we view them, don't we ?
I want people to be respectful of Lily as she grows older, to acknowledge that she has desires of her own and choices that are her own to make, and to speak to her as a whole person. I hope that people ask her questions about how she's doing, ask her what her interests are, show her that they really care about her as a human being, and not a syndrome.
I pray that others view my daughter as just who she is - a complex, unique individual, who perhaps has a greater capacity to experience happiness, but is indeed...
a whole person.