When you have a baby who has Down syndrome you find out that almost everyone in the world has a cousin with Down syndrome and they all work at a grocery store.
And they’re all incredibly happy.
You know, I hope most people are happy. I hope all kids are happy. And babies.
Are people as a species so unhappy that my now five-year old daughter reading library books on the couch stands out in such contrast?
There are many ways I would describe my daughter – brigadier general comes to mind – but I wouldn’t describe either of my kids as happy. Just like I wouldn’t describe them as people who breathe. Or sleep. Or clip their fingernails. There are just a lot of words I would use first.
I did have a new acquaintance tell me that my daughter was very loving. I looked around to see if we meant the same girl. It was indeed the one dog-piling her big brother. Thank you, I said.
It seems like we all want to be happy. Pills, teas, lavender lotions. Link after book after glossy magazine:
Are You Happy?
Five Signs That You Could Be Happier
Twenty Simple Ways To Get Happy
In the Parenting section is The Happiest Kid (Toddler, Child and I believe Teenager) on the Block.
As a special needs parent, I’m not sure happy is all you’re going for. I’m guessing you want more.
No one watches a nine-year old in a chess tournament and says, “She’s so happy!” The Happiest Child finishes soccer practice, piano lessons and French homework. Then she does her happy flashcards.
Maybe happy is what we work on when the checklist is done.
If you have Down syndrome, no one thinks you have a checklist. You float around finding ways to keep busy while the rest of us have real lives. And the reason we don’t find this a waste is because we tell ourselves people with Down syndrome are: happy.
Do we really want to give away “happy” to a sub-group? Remember the Native Americans who gave away Manhattan. We might want it back. Think it through.
Sometimes I dream that my daughter with Down syndrome will actually become a giant pill. A crank in a beret. I was secretly proud the day she dressed herself in all-black for preschool, Johnny Cash-style.
Do we typicals want to be happy, but only after we’ve earned our PhD’s? How do we want to be described in the Christmas newsletter? “Justin is so happy. He is forty-five years old. And just so darn happy.”
Isn’t it weird how happy can sound pathetic? When it’s on the cover of Cosmo it doesn’t sound pathetic. It sounds hot.
How will we get the right kind of happy? I want the good happy. The best happy. I want the happy that gets me my own parking spot.
Deep down, do any of us ever think happy is actually kind of optional? The icing on our achievement cake? If you had a choice between massive wealth or simple happiness, would any of us hedge our bets and go for the dough? I mean, how bad could it be?
When I Googled “Am I happy?” there were 1,470,000 results.
When I Googled “I am happy” in the declarative- there were only 1,120,000 results – 350 million fewer. And most of them were the Pharell Williams song.
So I took the Oprah “Are You Happy Quiz?” to see if I was happy. It turns out I am. I was kind of surprised. The dark clouds, the Pacific Northwest rain, after two weeks it already seems endless.
I scored between 52-70. This placed me in the category “Your smile is your guide.” I’m happy.
Then it was my five year-old daughter’s turn. Since she has Down syndrome, I thought I should test this once and for all.
I found out that:
Yes, she feels better when she gives unconditionally to others.
No, she does not dwell on people who disappoint her.
No, she did not feel her life would truly begin only when the right circumstances came along.
She does not think giving a present is better than getting one.
She. should. get. what. she. wants.
Not getting what she wants does not help her develop as a person.
Life is good and she appreciates what she has.
She has no trouble making her health a priority.
All totaled, she only scored between a 30-49. This puts her in the category of “Needs to Look on the Bright Side More Often.” She’s “not miserable”.
But she is not happy.
She hopped off the chair to finish her puzzle. Red barn, spotted cows. A snack bowl of snap peas.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her.