Overwhelmingly, the number one word used to describe my son and the majority of those rocking an extra chromosome like him is…HAPPY. This is seriously not a bad reputation to have! In fact, there is a great YouTube video going around with groups of people with Down syndrome gleefully shaking what God gave them to the hit song Happy. You can’t help but tap your toes and grin ear to ear. Who wouldn’t?!
But the more I hear the word ‘happy’ being used to describe children & adults with Down syndrome, the more I don’t like it. Not in a weird, over sensitive I’m-a-mom-of-a-child-with-special-needs-and-I-need-to-defend-him-from-the-world kind of way. (We all know those types!) But, I think I have two pretty solid reasons to not totally love the word in describing my boy:
First, I believe it robs my son, and those like him, the opportunity to be human. It is true, overall, Isaac is a pretty happy kid…except when he is not. *wink* (This is usually my semi-flippant response when people coo over ‘what a happy boy he is!’) My son is human. He has good days. He has bad days. Some days he is just plain mad, I mean truly & royally NOT happy. And he deserves the right to feel those emotions and learn how to react to them appropriately. He gets selfish and jealous and rebellious and frustrated and angry. He is a toddler for Pete’s sake; his emotions are ALL over the place — it’s like beta testing for puberty! And, just like you & me, he is a sinful creature of this broken earth in need of God’s grace. It’s my job as his parent to teach him to both acknowledge how he is feeling and be accountable for how he responds to his emotions–happiness, anger and everything equally in between. It’s not about just being happy, it’s about the Fruits of the Spirit.
Second, I simply don’t think ‘happy’ is an accurate word. In my mind, what people describe as happy is really misinterpreted JOY. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, but joy is a gift of character, given by our Creator to enjoy His presence and ALL that is in it. “My joy in you will make your joy complete” (John 15:11). People feel happiness but ARE joyous, even with the occasional bad day. This is why dancing with your whole person to a catchy tune in the middle of the street isn’t happy…it’s joyful! Feeling it from your toes, moving, breathing & finding your being in Christ (Acts 17:28). The Psalmist said “You fill me with JOY in your presence” (Psalms 16:10). David would know…he danced for joy before the Lord…naked! There is no anxiety in joy because true joy grows out of faith, hope, thankfulness & love; it is aware of the abundance of Grace in our lives and delights in serving others. Joy is simple and born out of a deep response to our Maker. I honestly don’ t know if the Lord knit this gift into my son via his extra chromosome or the simplicity of my son’s heart isn’t hindered in receiving what has been readily given to us all. Either way, THIS is what I believe people are seeing in Isaac and all of his chromosomal buddies. A contagious, I-want-some-of-what-he’s-got JOY in the Lord!