Monday, February 18, 2013

Hey, Ya Wanna See My "Fried Egg" Face?

Meet Troy. Well, this isn't really Troy; it's a picture I found online, but it's as close as
I could get to Troy. Troy was a young man with Down Syndrome, thick glasses on his perfectly
 round face, Nordic blond hair, big blue eyes, and a killer sense of comedy. Use your imagination.

      Troy had a hard time getting his feet off the floor. He shuffled everywhere, hunched over a little with his arms straight down at his side, and he needed frequent reminders to hold his head up so he could see where he was going. But, Troy was not an "institutional" kid. He lived his life with his parents, and he was an only child. Thus, he was my classroom "preppie". Dressed to the nines every day, well-mannered, always saying his pleases and thank-yous....Troy was a special education teacher's dream student. He loved homework, which was often worksheets with clocks for telling time, or with coins, so he could practice counting money. He carried his "sight word" flashcards around in a fanny pack, so he could practice them if he had a few extra minutes. I actually missed him during the 45 minutes he was out of my classroom to see the speech therapist twice a week. Most of the other teachers in the building greeted him daily with a hearty "Atta boy, Troy!", and he would reward him with the most infectious smile ever.
      If you have read some of my earlier posts, you know I had some extraordinary students in my Minneapolis classroom. Troy was no less special. This kid was an absolute sunbeam. I have known many teens with Down Syndrome, and as a group they are predictably cheerful, but Troy's positive attitude extended far beyond this stereotype. Many times I watched him as he stopped a peer from exploding into a frustrated temper tantrum, or as he brought an extended crying jag to a dead stop. A droopy, depressed classmate would be laughing hysterically in just a few seconds. Troy's secret was his willingness to do whatever it took to stop the negativity and to inject the sad-sack friend with his personal brand of comedy. Mostly, he accomplished this using only his favorite funny face.

      "Hey, ya wanna see my fried egg face?"

      That's all it took.

       Troy would tuck in his lips and bulge out his eyes, posing with a dedicated stare, as he jutted out his chin and then took a quick peek to make sure you were watching.

      "Don't it look just like my eyeballs is eggs in a frying pan?"

      It CERTAINLY did. His sad/mad/unhappy target's response would always be the same. A loud laugh, another laugh, and then you would have to beg him to stop. If it did not get an immediate response, Troy would put his hands on his hips and march around to everyone who might be nearby and show all of them his fried-egg face. Any person involved in one of these scenarios would be in on the loud laughing within seconds.
      This was part of his effectiveness. Troy didn't just get the target person to laugh, he would create a chorus of laughter. And he knew when to quit. At just the right moment, with the timing of a seasoned entertainer, Troy would give a satisfied sigh.
      "Now that's a whole lot better. Let's just be happy."

       Troy would get back to whatever business he was tending to before his "show".  A bad situation had been completely turned around, and Troy would act like nothing had happened.

       I truly wish I had a photograph of Troy and his fried-egg face. It was one of those things that just had to be seen in person to get the full effect. Only in one of those moments, could you see the pure joy he felt by being able to help someone laugh when they needed it most. It was his gift.

       Troy made it easy to laugh, because he had no problem laughing at himself. He never took the task of making that face seriously. He never worried how silly or strange he might seem to others. People who didn't know Troy might think, "He looks so different already with that funny walk, weird eyes, and thick glasses; why would he make a face like that and make himself look even goofier?"
      Why would he do that?  He would do that because Troy cared about his friends and not about himself. He was a giver, not a taker. He never complained, argued, or slacked. He had a life to live and a mission to accomplish. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have more folks like Troy in your life?

       Troy will always be in my life. He is permanently impressed on my brain. Laugh, life is too short to be unhappy. Don't take yourself so seriously. Smile, who cares how goofy you feels good. And it usually makes the people around you feel good, too. Thanks, Troy.