In the midst of the fun, over the din of the Disc Jockey spinning hits from 1980 at my 30th High School reunion, right there in the middle of polite conversation with me, two of my classmates let the R word rip. For the first time since having my beautiful 5-year-old identical twin sons who have Down syndrome, I did not correct the culprits who used the offensive term… both of whom know me and know about My Boys through Facebook. It HURT me to hear them use the term. So, why didn’t I call them on it? Well, I didn’t want to get into it in the middle of a party. I didn’t want to offend. I didn’t want to spoil the fun… though it was spoiled for me. Sadly, my opinion of each of these highly educated people fell a little bit last night.
Perhaps by telling the story here, you might recognize yourself and go forth to use the R word no more:
Poking fun at yourself when you attempted but failed to recall something you once knew, you laughed and said, “… I’m retarded. Ha ha ha.” When I didn’t acknowledge your comment but chose, instead, to stare blankly into the middle distance because I just couldn’t speak through my cringed lips, you clarified, “Yeah, I’m totally mentally retarded when it comes to remembering things. Ha ha ha!” I continued to avert my eyes, to not acknowledge, to swallow, to breathe, and not correct your misspeak in the midst of a good party. I could have. I should have. But, I know you, you’re the type that would be totally insulted at being corrected… Then again, you didn’t mind insulting me! Besides, there’s a time and place for everything…. except for the R word. There’s no appropriate time or place in polite conversation for that word anymore.
Yes, you know that I have children with Down syndrome. But, I guess, what you don’t know is that the way you put yourself down using the R word, is painful to me. To you it was a joke. Yeah, I get it! But, comparing yourself favorably to people with intellectual disabilities…to people like my sons…. ISN’T FUNNY. You don’t know that every time I hear the R word I feel as though a knife is being twisted in my heart. My friend, you are insulting my children when you use this term! You are making fun of my beautiful and innocent little boys whose intelligence outshines any IQ test score every day of the week.
Let me tell you first hand, Mom’s like me don’t think it’s funny to call yourself or anyone else a retard…. I know that you meant it as a joke, as a put-down to yourself! But, that’s exactly the problem! You’re saying that being intellectually challenged makes you less than the rest of us. Puts you into a group you would never want to belong to. Puts you in a group with My Boys. And therein lies the insult.
No, I have no chip on my shoulder. If you know me at all, if you’ve ever read my blog, you know that my acceptance of my children is total. No, I’m not one of those people waiting to be insulted. As a matter of fact, I generally avoid people who insult me, who insult my intelligence or that of my children. But you, YOU are my friend. I didn’t expect it from you.
So, I invite you to come and spend some time with my children or others like them. See the incredible beauty and love that I see. Know that they are so much more than an IQ score in some “educated” person’s file drawer. Then, when you’ve come to know them and love them the way I do, when you see them for the wondrous people they are, STOP USING THE R WORD! It’s hurtful and derogatory to an innocent group of people who struggle for acceptance every day. They don’t need to be the butt of your joke. They need your help and acceptance in a society that judges us all — but especially them — too harshly. You have the ability to help change the world — their world, my world, our world — for the better. All you have to do is delete that word from your vocabulary! Do it for me. Do it for My beautiful Boys!
The next time that word begins to roll off your tongue… think of me and My Boys. Then STOP… change it. Say something that’s true but not hurtful like, “I can’t do that anymore. My memory’s shot!” or “You know me, I’m a bit uncoordinated that way.” I’d laugh at THAT! But don’t use my children as your point of comparison. And, by the way, now that you know how much it hurts me, when you hear someone else use the disparaging R word, remember me, remember my boys and their smiling faces and beautiful green eyes and loving embrace, and tell that person about me, about my boys. Tell them what I’ve told you. Tell them the R word is a derogatory term that has fallen from favor and shouldn’t be used anymore. It hurts innocent people! It’s the right thing to do!
Thanks for listening, friend.