The Laugh-Out-Loud Joy My Daughter With Down Syndrome Brings to Our Lives
What makes you laugh, I wonder? I mean really laugh. Out loud. Guffaw.
Slapstick humor? A pie to the face? Or a slip-up on a banana skin? The sort that only happens in cartoons….except when it happened to my husband a few years ago, and I’m still laughing.
Or perhaps it’s wit. Great British sarcasm or irony. An evening on Twitter can provide endless source of amusement, especially in the field of politics, if that’s your thing. And as for U.S. President, Donald Trump…his surname alone provides great joy and laughter for the 8-year-old in my house.
For my daughter, Hazel, with her extra chromosome, I really don’t know what makes her laugh. All I know is she does. Often.
She somehow missed the memo about suffering (you know, the one given out with the advice to pregnant women about their risk of having a baby with Down syndrome).
But what is she laughing at or about? I genuinely don’t know 90 percent of the time. It’s a mystery. Lately, she’s been waking up giggling. Laughing in her cot bed. At what?
No idea. But it triggers more laughter. It’s contagious. One by one, we go down with the same condition. We just don’t know why.
Often, she’ll start laughing at other random moments of the day. Really laughing. Again, I have no idea why. There are no visual clues. Nothing funny has happened. No slapstick or custard pies to be seen. Nobody has fallen over or stubbed their toe. No one has made any rude noises or said the word “poo.” No one has told a joke. And as she has very little speech, it’s not as if she can tell me what’s so funny.
Share the joke Hazel.
There are, of course, many occasions when we can see the reason for the joy.
Her older sister can be guaranteed to extract laughter from her in that special way only siblings do. The bond is tangible and strong. Clearly, her sister missed that memo…you know, the one about how the siblings will “suffer.”
Then there was the time recently when a dear friend came to visit and joined in with the bath-time routine. Much hilarity and joy as our friend — who happens to make people laugh for a living — introduced a song and a dance to the proceedings. Laughter like we’d never heard coming from the tub. “You really know how to extract the laughter from her,” I say. “It’s kind of what we comics do,” she says.
Extracting the laughter. That need, sometimes, to go after the joy. To find it, work for it and revel in it. Life is hard, we may forget to laugh and not experience its benefits.
According to one study:
Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. It also helps you to release anger and be more forgiving.
In Hazel, the laughter has just been there. I haven’t had to try too hard at all, though I sometimes wish I knew what or who was extracting it! I sometimes pray she will be surrounded by Angels, seen and unseen. Only now I wonder if God has assigned her to the safe keeping of the heavenly host’s comedy division — after all, someone’s making her giggle!
Hazel laughs. She also cries. She experiences a whole range of emotions. She knows pain and she does know a degree of suffering, I won’t deny that. In a day of laughter and giggling, like today, there has also been pain and discomfort as she went through yet another feeding tube change. She cried. I cried. How I long for the day when she no longer needs a tube in her stomach. This week alone she has three hospital appointments, none of which will be a walk in the park — for her or me.
And still she laughs.
And we laugh with her. Far more than we ever did before she became part of our lives. Far more than we ever cry.
The risk of laughter…side splitting, face aching, snort inducing laughter, is never far away. It seems Hazel is way ahead of most people without an extra chromosome on so many levels. She does joy rather well. Joy in spite of pain. Joy alongside pain. Joy triumphing over pain.
For any expectant parents who may be reading this and are faced with this “risk,” let me be clear: the stakes are very high — joyously so.
It’s a risk definitely worth taking.
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