Thursday, May 28, 2009

Miss Congeniality

Today Bridget did nothing to dispel the stereotypes that people with Down syndrome are extra loving and always happy.

We went to Emmy's "First Grade Class Songs" at the elementary school this afternoon, and Bridget reached out to every person who approached us. Literally. Even if they were not coming to talk to us, but happened to be walking or sitting nearby, our little Miss Congeniality reached out with both arms and hopped into their arms. Men, women, children...she didn't discriminate. Anyone who appeared, in any way, willing to hold her got the chance. And it didn't stop there. She hugged and patted, kissed, blew kisses, played peekaboo (in a very coy way, always leaving a little room between her fingers to make sure the person was still watching).

When we were trying to leave, I put Bridget down so she could walk out. I turned around to see her sitting happily in a lady's lap (and I had never seen the woman before...thank goodness she was so willing to indulge my child). When I reached out to Bridget and told her it was time for us to go home, she patted the woman's leg, looked me squarely in the eye and said, "No". She was the life of the party. I am imagining next fall when she walks onto the school grounds again for her first year of preschool. All I can say is, they have no idea what they're in for :).

You'd never know it from the start of this post, but Miss Congeniality has been a bit of a rascal recently. I have been seriously considering getting out my markers and posterboard to make a "TWO-YEAR-OLD FOR SALE" yard sign. She pinches (usually with a grin, but hurts!), and drops and flops with her bottom in the air (or starts coughing) when she doesn't get her way. She likes to "hide" from me, push the buttons on all remote controls or small appliances within reach, and "sort" clean laundry. She thinks it is incredibly fun to shred toilet paper and even more fun to watch mommy clean it up. She's a little bit demanding, full of drama and into absolutely everything. And just now, Sara (who was supposed to be watching Bridget while I write this) came around the corner and said, "I just can't watch her any more! She's hurting me!" So there's proof: she is not always happy and loving.

With that said, she is generally a very sweet little girl. (She is also two. For sure.) We (parents of children with Down syndrome) tend to get frustrated, though, with the suggestion that all people with Ds are (fill in the blank). Stereotypes of any kind are hurtful in their generalization--in failing to see the person as an individual. But is being happy and/or loving such a bad thing? People with Ds are often less inhibited with their affection than typical people. Not always, but often. And that's part of what makes people with Down syndrome like magnets-- others are drawn to them. Who doesn't want to feel wanted?

On the way home this afternoon, Chris and I were talking about our youngest daughter's behavior today, and how other people reacted to her. (She hasn't always gone so easily to others, but has started to do it a lot recently. She does watch to make sure mom or dad is close by, and she points us out to the person holding her.) People were genuinely happy to hold Bridget this afternoon and really seemed to enjoy her social confidence and affection. I think she might have stolen a few hearts. She definitely made people smile.

We were talking about the stereotype ("they"--people with Ds--are always so loving and happy). "Well, there are worse things to be. That's for sure," Chris said. He said "being happy" (finding contentment and a sense of peace in Life) is one of his greatest wishes for all of his kids, now and in the future. We've often talked about how it doesn't really matter to us what they do, but how our hope is that they each stay healthy, and happy, and contribute in some positive way to the world.

Some people spend their whole life trying to find happiness. If this comes naturally, even easily, to Bridget, then all the better. There are sure to be other things that take more work for her. Whether it is somehow linked to the extra chromosome or not, this one thing--the innate understanding of how to be happy and make others happy--it is a gift.


  1. LOL! I bet everyone went home talking about that cute little girl!!!! Oh, and when you decide to sell her, PLEASE let me have the first bid!!!! :)

  2. I can just picture her stealing the show :-) Too cute!

    John Michael is starting to show his spirited side as well (biting, coughing, yelling). He certainly keeps me on my toes!

  3. Yes, to be two! It's an interesting age for sure. NEver a dull moment. And I agree about the stereotype - happiness is not a bad one to have!

  4. I have a lot of friends who've no prior stereotypes or experiences with people with DS and they've always remarked about what a love bug my child is. We had to be very attentive to teaching her to shake hands rather than hug and "hands to self" became a mantra for a few years. Not to discourage her from hugging people she knew but to teach her about personal boundaries that make people comfortable or uncomfortable- like personal space.She's done well, with some outbreaks, learning. However, we still have friends and people who she knows that we might not, that come up and ask specifically for one of Kayli's therapeutic hugs.
    I just disregard the generalizations- all I know is my child is full of a joy that many never have! As for the devilishness- 2 is 2, testing , testing to see what reaction she can get!

  5. "Whether it is somehow linked to the extra chromosome or not, this one thing--the innate understanding of how to be happy and make others happy--it is a gift". Totally agree with you. :)

  6. This is Joyce. Beautifully written. Truthfully, I have never had a problem with the "happy" stereotype. Watching my friends struggle with the drama of their teenage girls I have often been thankful for the "happy" in Sarah.

  7. I really, truly couldn't have said it better. I think a lot about what's so wrong with "being happy" if it weren't because people are putting our kids in a "box" -- happiness is so illusive to many of us. Like Bridget, happiness comes so naturally to Lucas and it just makes my heart're so right, it's a gift. I read your blog all the time, thank you for your always insightful take on things.

  8. Welllll my teen is not a lo0ve bug--- doesn't fit the stereotype at all... and the stereotype bugs me a lot.
    However, I think it important to mention that you will need to work on teaching her limits of touch. It is dangerous not to.....

  9. Stereotypes are not good in general...whether your child exemplifies the stereotype or not. Everyone has dimension as well as unique personality traits and skills. That includes people with Ds. Our goal should be to look at each person as an *individual*. Anything else is unrealistic and a short sell for all involved.

    On a side note, we are aware that we may need to work with Bridget on personal space and safety issues with regard to touch and affection. Right now, she's only two, and we are right beside her at all times. I wouldn't encourage any of my children to keep a distance from others at this age...but we are aware that her openness might also make her vulnerable at some point.

  10. I loved this post... and just posted about a recent issue I had related to stereotypes. It's something we all have to think about.

    By the way, I heard about downtownds from your site, so thank you for that! And I've linked to your blog from mine - hope that's ok!