Hallie’s Smile

31 Oct

A smile from Hallie is a rare thing.  With a stoicism that would have made Buster Keaton proud, Hallie remains solemnly non-committal.  Down Syndrome children are born with low muscle tone, which means they’re floppy.  Like a very cuddly rag doll, head and limbs go everywhere.  Because of this their physical development is slower than most children’s.  But Hallie’s been doing great.  She holds her head up, searching the horizon like a prairie dog, she struggles, she kicks, she grabs my nose, slaps my face, and yesterday she gave me a head butt worthy of a soccer hooligan.  This we call progress. 

And yet she rarely smiles.  

But within her limited range of expression she is hilarious!  With comic chops well beyond her years, she does more with a tilt of the head or a briefly raised eyebrow than anyone I know.  Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton, were they alive, would certainly bow down to her.  Like the three wise men of old, they would gather together in the mists of some 1920’s Hollywood watering-hole and then pilgrimage across vast deserts, endless plains, and numerous decades to present-day Queens, where they would honor my infant daughter with precious gifts.  Chaplin would bring his physical grace, Lloyd his derring-do, and Keaton, whose lean wisp of a body is forever trying to make way against gale force winds, tumbling boulders, and collapsing buildings would bring the greatest gift of all: the quiet strength and comic ingenuity to overcome life’s greatest obstacles and to make us laugh while doing it.  In return she would bless them with, of course, a smile.

Because while they are rare, Hallie’s smiles do exist, as radiant as they are brief.  Initially, they might have been mistaken for a mere flicker of a facial muscle, but no more.  Her smile has found her eyes, and in unexpected moments her face will suddenly illuminate, igniting like a flash of summer lightning.  In that moment I know my daughter is a joyful being.

So, having accomplished their task, the three kings begin their journey home, each taking a final pratfall in hopes that their slapstick grace will win one more smile.  Chaplin, shameless ham that he is, lifts his hat and twitches his moustache as the others file out, but to no avail.  Sadly, he pulls the door closed with his cane, and then, as silently as they came, they are gone.  

Hallie, after pausing for a moment, lifts an eyebrow and cocks her head as if to say, “Can you believe those guys?”  And we laugh.  Only then does she look at us, wrinkle her pale blue eyes and smile for all she’s worth.



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