Why I Stopped Saying 'Just as Long as It's Healthy'

father kisses his son on the cheek After four boys, I get asked the famous question often: “Are you hoping for a girl this time?” It’s just a conversation starter, but for families that already hold four-of-a-kind in their family poker hand it’s kind of expected. And my usual response, like many others, has been, “Just as long as it’s healthy.”

But when one of my employees who knows my family poker hand asked me that question yesterday, that same-ol’ answer didn’t pop out as usual. Maybe because I was at work and I encourage my agents every day to think differently and to avoid the usual trite responses. I surprised myself with a new answer: “Just as long as it’s happy.” My agent, who is pregnant with her first child, smiled and replied, “Yeah, me too!”

Post-Cody, that other word means all the difference to me now. Cody is arguably healthy even though he has an extra 15th chromosome. Its symptoms affect us and others around him far more negatively than it seems to affect him because he is “happy.” Because even people who are perfectly healthy may not be happy. Yet many people in the final stages of life still manage to find happiness while they are far from healthy, and we’ve been privileged to witness the journeys of several. Good health is a little bit of luck by winning the genetic lottery and influenced by good mind/body maintenance. So which is better to wish for others and for yourself to find and possess — health or happiness?

Some people in the disability community get upset when people tell them, “God only gives special children to special parents” — like it’s a predestined thing they have to live up to. I’m not going to argue the existence of God, but aren’t we all given the choice to “do unto others” with hatred or goodness every minute of every day? I believe adversity, like change, is merely a catalyst that allows you to become closer to the person you are deep down inside — for better or worse. Choosing to be happy, or at least content, versus choosing to be nasty to others and ourselves has an enormous ripple effect. I know it’s made me a better parent and also a better manager of people too.

Cody is happy. And while happiness is not perfection nor does it put food on the table, it can allow you to dance in the rain, smile when there is one last cookie in the bottom of a box and be thankful you have someone to snuggle up with on a stormy night. Happiness allowed my grandfather to smile at his legacy of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren while he could barely move and his body was wracked with cancer. Acceptance and gratitude are the parents of happiness.

We almost lost our youngest son, Tyler, a couple of times during Sara’s pregnancy with him. The amniocentesis went wrong and kept leaking, and she had a few other complications too. So far Tyler is a very typical, funny, dramatic little boy, but I wouldn’t say he’s happier than Cody, though genetically he is “healthier.” And what if this new baby keeps passing all the ultrasound tests and then after being born, “oops,” he has a missing or extra chromosome like Cody, because Cody passed all his ultrasound tests too? Then I hope we can manage the health symptom parts because I know we got the happy part down. If so, bring it on.

“Just as long as it’s happy.”

man and wife with three sons

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