When Cortney Warren entered her baby's picture in the Gerber contest on a whim, I doubt she could have imagined the outcome.
Her child Lucas was chosen from more than 140,000 entries to be the 2018 Gerber Spokesbaby. Just take one look at Lucas' smile and you'll see why he was selected to be the face of Gerber. It's awfully hard to look at his photo and not smile back. Go ahead, try it. It was this huge smile and happy expression that won the hearts of the team at Gerber.
Lucas is the first child with Down syndrome to be exalted to the high position of Gerber baby since the contest began more than ninety years ago. Now I'm just speculating here, but I don't think the judges first thought was "This child has Down syndrome." I'm guessing their first response was, "Wow, what a cute baby! This kid could light up a room!"
I hope when we see Lucas' bright smile in an advertisement or popping up on social media that we will remember every child is created by God with equal worth. Children should not be seen as less then because of a disability. All babies should be embraced, loved, and celebrated.
As I watched the interview of Lucas' parents Cortney and Jason, I didn't see parents who were angry because they were given a special needs child to raise. They didn't seem to be living each day frustrated by the extra effort required to parent Lucas well. They looked happy, hopeful, and optimistic. Well, you might say, of course they were happy. Their baby just won the Gerber baby contest. But I have a feeling they have lived life smiling with Lucas way before the cameras started rolling.
I believe the love and warmth of Lucas' home nurtured that soon-to-be-famous Gerber smile. I believe parents by God's grace can love a child into a promising future, whether that child has a disability or not. Let's take our cue from Lucas' parents. Choose to champion your child no matter what the challenges. Don't define your child by a deficiency. Speak works of encouragement and life instead.
If you have children, you can show them Lucas' winning photograph. You can use his story to raise awareness about Down syndrome. Ask your kids if they've ever seen anyone with Down syndrome before. Encourage them to befriend kids they see with special needs, just as they would befriend anyone else. In her interview with the Today Show, Cortney said she hopes her son will be seen not only as a baby with Down syndrome, but also as a funny, energetic child who loves music and socializing.
I am so happy Lucas was chosen as the face of Gerber in 2018. I know whenever I see a photo of his infectious smile, my day will be the richer because of it. There is beauty and dare I say joy to be found even in illness, and Lucas' enthusiasm is a vivid reminder.
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of several books including Parents Rising: 8 Strategies for Raising Kids Who Love God, Respect Authority, and Value What's Right. She and her husband James have three children and live in San Diego, CA.