Learning fact: people with Down syndrome have hypotonia (low muscle tone). Because of this, they are often “floppier” and more flexible, and their feet have a way of slapping the ground when they walk. As a result, Matthew’s walk is quite distinctive, and even at age 20, he can pull both of his feet behind his head.
Story time: Throughout his teenage years, Matthew has been fixated on police officers. He owns a set of handcuffs and a nerf gun, and he isn’t afraid to use them. He corrects me every time I call a police officer a “cop,” because he finds it disrespectful. He owns a collection PD shirts from multiple states. He watches arrests, pull-overs, and tasing done by policemen and women on YouTube as a fun little hobby. And any time he sees an officer in public, he keeps checking on him/her over his shoulder – his way of studying their movements without being too obvious about it. But it’s always obvious. When it is suggested that we go greet said officer, Matthew smiles as he leans his head down, giggling nervously. Approaching the policeman, Matt gets a little silly – usually whispering to himself or continuing to laugh. But when we are standing before them, Matthew freezes up in silence and just stares, starstruck – allowing me or another adult to initiate the conversation. Police officers are generally very kind to Matt – willing to answer his questions, which are almost always about the taser they carry. Some have taken their taser out and shot it into the air, leaving Matt completely amazed. Others have just let him take a look at it. Matt usually follows this exchange with a “can I hold it?” or a “can I tase you?” And shortly thereafter, he’ll answer his own question:
“riiiiight,” eliciting nervous giggles from the policeman and any surrounding spectators.
These are two different policemen on two separate occasions. It kills me every time.
Our grandpa is a retired police officer, and his son is a current policeman. They both live in Florida, an annual vacation spot for our family. On one of our trips, in the year Matt was especially fascinated by the cops, my grandpa and uncle set up an opportunity for Matt to really truly BE one of them. First, they dressed him in a police vest. Then, they showed him how to use a taser (but much to his dismay, he did not get to try it). He was then given the passenger seat in a police car, and he placed my sister and I in the backseat, which by the way, was not at all comfortable. We proceeded to make our way down the neighborhood streets of Port Charlotte, Florida, when our uncle decided to spice things up. In an entirely staged scenario (to everyone’s knowledge but Matt’s), he turned on the sirens and lights of the police car and followed my grandpa’s van. Matt was alllllll sorts of giddy. He began flapping his arms (a sweet characteristic that he used to portray as a little boy all the time but now is only displayed when he is especially excited about something) and laughing as we slowed to a stop behind my grandpa, and our uncle instructed officer Matt to give the driver a ticket. As much as he tried to be serious about his ticketing duty (and he really did try), he couldn’t seem to wipe the smile off his face. He walked up to our grandpa’s car as straight-faced and straight-standing as he could, and then it all went to shambles. He threw his head back in laughter, and we all joined in.
This was for certain the highlight of his trip, and I’m sure it would likely be ranked in his top ten life experiences as well.
If only we could look at our every day the way Matthew looks at riding shotgun in a police car.
Thanks to this quirky brother of mine, I have learned more about tasers and handcuffs than I ever wanted to. But I have also learned how to embrace the simplest interactions and life experiences with radiant JOY.