A few years ago, our family circus found ourselves at our kids’ high school football game because that is what we have done in support of our daughter, Abby, while she would cheer for her high school. It was always guaranteed to be a fun Friday night because the cheer squad was awesome, the band was great, the Wolf Pack was spirited and our high school team was pretty good…they still are pretty good. Seated behind us, at this particular game, was a group of high school aged boys engaged in conversation that included calling one another stupid retards, the visiting team’s uniforms retarded, a particular teacher was most definitely a retard…and on and on.
At one point, Daniel turned to me and pointedly asked me, “Am I a retard?”
I replied asking him what did he think that word meant. Thinking for a minute, he answered that people he knew used it to talk about stupid people and sometimes people called him that at school so he was wondering if he was a retard.
“No, son. No you are not. You are a very bright, hard-working, amazing kid. Anyone and everyone who knows you would agree. No, you are not stupid.”
Daniel sat there for a moment pondering what I just told him. He hugged me and then asked if he could go and hang out with Abby’s boyfriend.
“Of course, Daniel.”
Yes, my heart broke just a little during our conversation. How could it not? I looked down at Daniel hanging out with Jon and smiled and waved. Must maintain a happy, strong face I told myself. How else could I support my child against such attacks, even if they are indirect? It was then that my thoughts were broken by the boy directly behind me laughing over his friend tripping and spilling food everywhere. “Dude! You are such a fucking retard!”
I whipped my head around and looked the kid square in the eye and asked him, “Is he (the friend) really mentally retarded?”
“Do you see that little boy down there?”
“The one standing next to Jon?”
“Yeah. Do you know Jon? So do I. He’s a good friend of my family. He happens to be friends with that little boy. That little boy who just so happens to be developmentally disabled…a retard as you put it…that little boy is my son.”
“I wasn’t talking about your kid…”
“No? Then what did you mean by that word when you called your friend that?”
The kid started to say something, then stopped, then started again, then stopped, then he muttered his apologies saying that he didn’t really mean it and had no idea that it would hurt someone like my child.
“Perhaps next time you say it you will realize and you will get it.”
After our exchange, the boys got up and slunk off to the snack bar. Later on during the game I spied that kid hanging out with Jon and even talking to Daniel. I won’t pretend that my conversation with him made too much of a difference because, after all he was just a smart-alecky kid; but I’d like to think that watching the game and interacting with Daniel made him appreciate all the more just how awesome and even normal a kid like Daniel is. I can only hope that that kid would get it.
Anyone who has read this Adventures in Juggling of mine for any length of time knows that I do not like the usage of the word “retard”. Anyone who knows me even more closely perhaps gets why…I am the mother of a child living with cognitive and developmental disabilities. But, truth be told, I have never cared for the use of the word “retard”. In my opinion, there are more better ways to articulate when one finds a situation, a thing or even a person to be frustrating, stupid, foolish, dense, futile, idiotic, inane, ludicrous, clumsy, pointless, irrelevant, simple, slow, sluggish, thick, trivial, ignorant, vacuous….and on …and on. I am so much smarter than to resort to the use of one word when describing anything or anyone I find to match any of the above words. At least that is how I see it. Add to that belief is the fact that through the years, long before I became Daniel’s mother, I saw how a word like that used so casually could hurt someone. I have known many families with children living with physical, developmental, cognitive disabilities. I saw how people’s words and attitudes hurt. I got it…or at least I thought I did. Then through that short conversation with my child I realized all the more just how hurtful it really was. Whether people use that word to my son’s face or not it hurts…pure and simple, it hurts.
I get it.
Everywhere around me, I am surrounded by people who use that word with seemingly no thought at all…at the mall, at the football games, at the dance studio, at school, at the tae-kwon-do studio at the coffee shop, in polite conversation with me…everywhere. No, I don’t believe that most of them would ever intend to hurt my child…yet they do…every time they use that word.
He hears you.
He understands you.
Today is Spread The Word To End The Word Day, part of an ongoing campaign against the r-word created by The Special Olympics. Close to 250,000 people have signed a pledge against the word “retard.” Today I call everyone out who uses that word who reads this blog…who knows Daniel, whether personally or through this blog.
Ellen, writer of “Love That Max and mom of Max, wrote today, “People would never call a kid with cognitive disabilities a “retard” to his face (and if you are a person who would do that, step away from this blog and go search for your soul). If you wouldn’t say the word to my child because you know it’s offensive, you should avoid using it elsewhere, too. Either way, it’s demeaning. Either way, it hurts my child.” Ellen also created this amazing video that explains in the simplest of ways what is wrong with this word…you know, for the kajillion more or so out there who don’t get what is wrong with it.
Think of Max.
Think of Daniel.
And don’t say it.