It may be a function of age—they are 8, 6, and 4—or it may just be that brothers and sisters will occasionally get on each other’s nerves.
Then again, maybe it’s Magdalena.
The kids get especially frustrated with her. I understand where they’re coming from. I get frustrated with Magdalena, too. She’s the 6-year old. She’s the one with Down syndrome.
We love Magdalena to pieces, of course, but she can be a handful. Kids with Down syndrome aren’t always the little angels they are made out to be. Sometimes they are sweet as sugar plums. Sometimes they are devious little devils.
They are a lot like the rest of us.
The thing with Magdalena is that she almost never does what you want her to do. Rules mean nothing to her. She’ll listen to your instructions but then simply disregard them.
She often punctuates her disregard with a non-sequitur, just to make you crazy. Her current preferred response to a question she doesn’t want to answer is, “A cherry!”
“What did you do at school today Magdalena?”
“Did you play with Teddy?”
“Yes.” Pause. “A cherry!” Magdalena’s eyes close and her head flies back. She roars with glee.
“Sweetie, I’d prefer if you didn’t say ‘A cherry!’ every time I ask you a question. Daddy wants to know what you did at school.”
“Okay.” At this point, her face gets serious. Her eyes go squint, but only a true sucker could miss the sparkle in them.
“Are you going to say ‘A cherry!’ again?”
“So, what did you do…”
“A cherry!” Peals of hysterical laughter.
Maybe it sounds cute when you read it, but in person it can make you want to smash things. As putative grownups, my wife and I do our best to take this business in stride. We remember Magdalena’s other challenges. We know the progress she has made in overcoming them. Getting her to stop saying “A cherry!” in response to every question would be nice, but it is relatively low on the list of priorities.
The kids, however, don’t care about Magdalena’s progress. They just know that she can be annoying. And they have no compunction about telling her so.
“Ugh, stop it! Dad, she’s doing it again!”
“What’s she doing?”
“She keeps saying ‘Hello lemon!’ every time I walk by. When I tell her to stop she just laughs in my face and says it again. She’s sooooo annoying.”
I like that Magdalena’s siblings don’t cut her any slack. They treat her the way she deserves to be treated, as an equal member of the family entitled to neither special consideration nor accommodation. It’s not her Down syndrome that makes her a special little angel, it’s her humanity.
My other kids don’t realize it now, and they wouldn’t know how to express it, but their attitude toward Magdalena is: You’re annoying, but I love you anyway.
And isn’t that what true love is supposed to be? Isn’t that the same as never having to say you’re sorry? It’s how I imagine God thinks of me: You’re extremely annoying, but I love you anyway.
When I disregard the rules, or when my patience fails me, I turn to God and ask for His forgiveness. Luckily, His message is always the same: I love you anyway.
I pray that the world will view Magdalena the way we do. We’re all disabled in a way. We’re all annoying to someone. At some point we all disregard our explicit instructions.
Anyone reading this prepared to throw the first stone?
If so, here’s what I have to say to you: