Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Always In A Happy Place


          She did not like being called "Little Jody". When she heard that name, she would stop right where she was, roll up her shirt sleeves, and show you her tiny biceps.
         Then Jody might shake her fist at you and say, "I'm not little! I could beat you up!" She always said it with a grin in her voice. Jody was a happy kid. She was fifteen and about 4'6" tall. That was as tall as she was going to get.
        Jody was intellectually challenged and looked like a little pixie....oops, like a pixie...leave off the part about being little, please. She had brown eyes that always were darting around, looking for something to do. Jody was able to read sight words, and was beginning to read with some basic phonics. She could tell time and count money. She was extremely proud of the plexiglass windshield scraper she made in shop class.
She was very slender and moved quickly. She loved to run, swing on the playground, and climb on the jungle gym. Jody was a tomboy, for sure; and she always would be. "Womanhood", as most of us know it, was not in her future.
         Jody's medical diagnosis was Turner syndrome. It is one of those rare genetic conditions that special education teachers learn about throughout their careers. They don't teach it in the college classes; you just learn as you go.
        Turner syndrome is a rare chromosomal disorder that affects only females (1 in 2500), and only 8-10% of those affected females are intellectually challenged. The symptoms of girls with this syndrome are short stature, abnormally loose skin on the neck, unusual eyes, a lowered placement of ears, a very small lower jaw, plus they often have heart and kidney problems. Girls with this condition have broad, shield-like chests and elbow deformities that make their arms hang awkwardly.
        The underlying cause of Turner syndrome is not known; it does not run in families, and it occurs in a random manner. In all cases, however, there is a partial or complete loss of one of the X (sex)chromosomes.  Turner syndrome can cause hyperactivity, gross and fine motor abnormalities, and language delays in those with normal intelligence. Jody had all these symptoms, besides her mental deficiency.   The picture here is not Jody, but it is of a girl who has Turner syndrome and looks a great deal like Jody did thirty years ago when I had her in my class.     
         Jody would remain extremely short, never develop breasts or develop sexually, and be infertile, due to ovarian failure. Basically, she would always be a little girl. It is like the "Peter Pan" syndrome, only for girls. However, there is nothing cute or romantic about Turner syndrome. Jody had a bad heart. She had folds of skin on the sides of her neck that made her look different enough to be teased in her neighborhood. Her lower jaw deformity made it difficult for her to chew. She was restricted to soft foods, as there was concern she might choke on improperly chewed food. She grew up with those restrictions, She didn't yearn for caramel apples or popcorn balls at Halloween. She loved Milky Way bars. She didn't drool over a juicy cheeseburger. She loved sloppy joes. Jody was one of those people who made the best of everything.
        Fortunately, her energy and enthusiasm for life had enabled Jody to overcome most of her physical awkwardness. Despite all her medical problems and mental obstacles, she was a naturally joyful person.  She was one of my students who simply was not intelligent enough to know she was not intelligent. That was probably a blessing for her. Without any hormonal development, Jody did not have any attraction to boys. It was not in her chemical make-up; there was no future male/female drama in her life. She had two caring parents and a couple of siblings; she spoke lovingly about them. She appreciated all the friends she had at school. In her world, Jody had no worries. She was always in a happy place! Wouldn't that be a wonderful place to live?
       For Jody, that was her reality. In the rest of the world, as we all know, life is not that simple. Take the fifteen-year-old girls who are in my class at this moment, for example. Wow, they would all be light years ahead on the happiness scale if they did not feel attracted to boys!  Regularly and unfortunately, their happiness depends on other people, boys in particular. I endeavor daily to help them find contentment and satisfaction within themselves, but it is a monumental uphill battle. They have trouble focusing on anything but boys. Wait, you say, that's normal for teenage girls!  Sure it is, but in the meantime, it causes these particularly mentally unbalanced girls even more angst than normal. I have a job for life.
       In reflecting on the reality of our own adult existence, I would be remiss not to mention your bills, your car in need of repairs, your illness, your aged parents, your rebellious teen(s), your failed diet/exercise program,  and your general stress about almost everything. Feel better?
       So, as you think about Jody's multiple permanent limitations and her contentment as I have  described it, I have a few questions for you.  What is the root of your happiness? Are you happy with what you have? Do you know where your joy comes from? Are you afraid of losing it?  Are you still searching for contentment? Does it come and go, depending on your "mood"? Does your bliss depend upon someone else? Just some things to consider.
       So now to get to the lesson learned from Jody. For me, Jody confirmed the belief that one is about as happy as one makes up their mind to be. Half empty/half full. According to Jody's limited but naively wise perspective, the glass was half full of water and half full of it was FULL. My own perception of her permanently pleasant  demeanor remains, in my memory, as the perfect example of someone making lemonade out of lemons. Her paradigm was always from a viewpoint of natural positivity. She had not taken a Dale Carnegie class or listened to any inspirational speakers. She was naturally happy. Yeah, that's it....I'm sticking with that....and  that's my story. I'm going to be happy. All things considered, I really have nothing to complain about. Because I said so, and Jody showed me how.
FOOTNOTE of interest: For all you NCIS Los Angeles fans
Linda Hunt: A Celebrity with Turner’s Syndrome  

Linda Hunt was born on April 2, 1945 in Morristown, New Jersey by the name of Lydia Susanna Hunter. She began her career at a young age as an actor and singer because her mother was a music teacher. She debuted in Hollywood in the 1980’s film version of Popeye as Mrs. Oxheart. She is currently known for her role as Hetty Lange on NCIS: Los Angeles. She has also stared in movies such as Pocahontas as Grandmother Willow, Mrs. Munion in Yours, Mine, and Ours, and Shadout Mapes in Dune. Throughout her career, she has won thirteen different awards, such as the 2012 Teen Choice Award for her character on NCIS: Los Angeles and an Oscar for “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” in 1984 for her movie The Year of Living Dangerously. She has happily lived with her partner, Karen Klein, since 1987. Not only is Linda Hunt an actress, but she also has Turner’s Syndrome.
Hunt’s condition has caused her to only grow to be four feet and nine inches tall. Despite living with Turner’s Syndrome, Hunt has grown to be a well-known celebrity. She did not let her condition inhibit her career as an actress. She is considered an inspiration for women with Turner’s Syndrome that aspire to achieve their goals in life.