Casey Macphee

One day, while feeding Maybelle, i turned the computer around and googled John John of Sesame Street fame. You know who i'm talking about: he was a sweetly precocious child who, most famously, counted to 20 with Harry Monster. I showed that video to Maybelle, and also the one in which Harry and John John talk about up and down. We watched up and down twice, and by the end of the second run Maybelle had learned to do it herself. I figured it was a good thing, this video watching (and it has the added benefit of distracting The Ween enough that i'm able to feed her new foods without too much fuss.)

So, somewhere in the piles of literature Alison and i have collected on Down syndrome, there is a little chart that gives characteristics of people with an extra 21st chromosome, e.g. intelligence:poor; muscle tone: slightly below average to poor, and so on. The thing i love about this chart is that it includes the character trait social skills. This is what it says for that:
social skills: excellent.

This is almost universally true. I've known several people with Down syndrome and have found them on the whole to be gregarious, eager, helpful, positive and on and on. Sure, when well-meaning people say the sort of essentializing "oh, people with Down syndrome are just so happy all the time," they may be being slightly politically incorrect, but i understand why they say it.

It's not true, of course: i've lived with Maybelle now for two years and i've seen her get plenty pissed off. Thing is, most folks don't really know a person with Down syndrome well; they've only met socially, so they miss the subtle differences. I think the more nuanced observation is that many folks with DS are incredibly empathic.

I know that Maybelle has shown a real recognition of both anger and sadness since she was just a few months old. I recently cried in front of the Ween one day while we were playing together on the floor. She was just sitting there, paying me no mind and hitting buttons on one of the many music-making machines she owns. I was lost pondering some grown up stuff and got a little teary. While i'm drying my eyes with one one of her cloth diapers, i feel someone flop onto my leg. She grunted her way up into my lap in her low-muscle-tone sort of way, and the next thing i know, i'm getting a very sweet hug. She put her arms around my neck, laid her head on my shoulder, patted me softly on the back, and softly said mmm, mmm, mmm. A couple of minutes later she crawled down and went happily back to playing with her Mozart cube. Now, there's a social skill for you.

Another way The Ween exemplified this trait just recently--and the raisin dextrose for this post--was the way she reacted the first time she saw the Sesame Street video of The Ballad of Casey Macphee. Casey was an train engineer who had to get milk and cookies through a dangerous, snow covered, mountain pass. Midway through the song, the music is cut and an avalanche cuts off the way through the mountains. Train breaks squeal and snow pours down the mountain side. It's dramatic, but only in a Sesame Street sort of way. Well, The Ween, whom i sure was not able to fully follow this story on her first run through, just stops short. She stops chewing her food and is riveted to the screen. She looks very concerned, she looks over at me and says ooohhh, she looks back at the screen in concern, looks back at me. It was exactly like when you say about another person "they looked like they'd just seen a ghost."

Shortly, the music resumed, Maybelle clapped and smiled and resumed eating and watching the video. She has this reaction, to varying degrees of concern, every time she watches the video. I have fruitlessly tried to capture a stellar example of this on our Flip video thingy for weeks. I wanted to put it here on the blog for all to see. I finally got a fairly good one the other day and Alison has posted it on our vimeo site. Here it is for your viewing enjoyment:

Watching Casey McPhee from Alison, Walter, and Maybelle on Vimeo.


Quiche said...

So sweet! I love how she looks to you at one point (empathy), to sense what you feel (: I posted a TED video on FB earlier, "RSA Animate: The Empathic Civilization", and empathy is one of our greatest skills, and possibly the most important if we are to survive as a species...our brains are "softwired" with "sociability", mirror neurons- we experience what others are feeling, the same neurons light up in the brain between the observer and observed (: Lovely to experience Maybelle and you displaying that empathic experience, and those of us observing the video get to share in that empathic experience- priceless (:

The Mom said...

Walter and Quiche - I enjoyed both of those videos! Of course I've watched Walter's multiple times by now - and you did capture her response very well. I'm so glad you keep trying with the videos.

The Dad said...

I continue to be amazed at Alison and your parenting skills. You, of course, interact and teach The Bean everyday and yet you see even the nuances of daily improvement in the Bean's communication, motor, relationship, emotional skills...
But for us, we only see new videos every week or so (I've watched this video at least 10 times). These short time lapses, gives us a different perspective on The Bean's growth and improvement. They are remarkable even astounding.
Good for you guys and the Bean
(Has she had her hair cut...)

The Dad

Anonymous said...

Emotional intelligence is undervalued. Our children have a place at the table, a valid place. They are whole people not partial people and add to the recipe of humanity. Not because they are cute either, which our daughters are but because they are unique and utterly themselves.