Down Syndrome Awareness — The Dreaded R Word Spoken In My Very Own Home

NOTE:  Sorry I’ve been incommunicado in the midst of the 31 for 21 Down Syndrome Awareness Month.  But, as Kimba says over at A Soft Place, sometimes it’s OK to reprioritize and put the people who matter most in our lives at the top of our priority list.  I’ve started TWO new part-time jobs this past week  (which I’ll tell you all about another time) and my “free” time has all but disappeared so I’ve had to reprioritize.  I can’t promise a post a day because of all these changes but I’ll do what I can. 

The Boys’ Birth Day story I promised is coming and it’s so long it could probably be broken out into 31 posts all by itself.   But first, something incredibly embarrassing and real happened to me just last night that I HAVE to share!  

Right now, I owe you all a heartfelt apology!


As a busy two weeks of work seized me, I failed to get birthday party invitations out for my daughter’s 9th birthday which has been on my calendar for many months but not on anyone else’s. With such short notice, many of our intended guests couldn’t make it so we pushed it out until next Saturday.  But, our favorite family of snowbirds are beginning their southward migration today (the day after the party) and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to get together with them one last time. 

So, we planned a tiny little gathering with this family and another to share the day and say goodbye.  At the end of a wonderful and relaxing celebration, during the long-goodbyes that always mark a fun time shared with good friends, the children began demonstrating their best wiggle-walk, while we adults bid our farewells intermittently engaged in conversation about the odd stride runway models use as they come down the catwalk.  The kids imitated smooth gliding wiggles to lots of giggles and that’s when it happened…  I said it, “It’s not smooth like that.  It’s [instantaneously picturing the weird stepping pattern the models use] retarded.” 

For a split second, the whole room was frozen in SHOCK — I was in shock — and then a cacaphony of gasps was heard!!!! Seriously.  I don’t know how that word came out of my brain let alone out of my mouth!  And YES — my dearest friends APPROPRIATELY AND IMMEDIATELY called me on it!  ALL fingers pointing at me.  My friends and their children all yelling at ME and saying, “HUH!!!! YOU SAID IT!”  Of course, being our close friends they’ve spent time attending to and changing their vocabulary as necessary and teaching their children not to use the R word for all the reasons we parents of children with special needs give everyone for not using it. The other family present that was sharing this special day with us are long-time, dear friends of ours as well… Who also happen to have a child with special needs.  And they too, called me on it.  Just as shocked by my use as I was!  My husband was stood silent.  Yes, equally shocked because in the fifteen years he’s known me, he’s never ever heard that word pass through my lips except in relation to the recent Ban The R Word campaign.  And, I can tell you in all honesty, until last night, I NEVER used that word before.  I never even think it!  I didn’t ever use it as a kid having been taught early on about the hurtfullness of name calling and being exposed early to people with special needs. I had good friends with special needs. I was a companion to a young man with special needs.  I knew their innate intelligence and I fought, even as a mere child myself, for their rights to be included in the world… just like everyone else.  And, I NEVER EVER used the R word.  Not as a child and not as an adult.  Not before and not after my beautiful children were born with an extra 21st chromosome.  It NEVER slipped from my mouth!  EVER!   Until last night!  I can honestly say, I don’t know where it came from in my brain.  And, I’m embarrassed, MORTIFIED actually, that I said it last night. 

I won’t make excuses like Jennifer Anniston.  I can’t say it happened because I was overly tired and under a lot of stress (any more than I typically am).  I am all of those but that’s no excuse for her or for me! But I can say that when I wanted to describe the strange way these skeletal women walked down the runway with their stilted and unnatural gait, that’s the word my brain chose.  It was just there in a split second.  Just EXACTLY the way I HATE to hear it used…  Unfavorably comparing someone “typical” to someone with intellectual challenges.  I am being honest here.  I AM MORTIFIED that I used it!  And the only explanation I can come up with is that all the writing and conversations and constant talk about NOT using the R word actually put the word into my brain’s bank of words available for use… a place it had NEVER been before.

In a long-ago post, I’d written about rarely ever hearing that word in polite conversation because the people who speak that way would not be in my circle of friends and family.  So, never hearing it being used, meant it wasn’t a choice in my brain.  There are lots of words I don’t like and don’t use.  Words I rarely if ever hear because the folks around me don’t use them either.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be around me.  But, with the worldwide campaign, the R word has become a regular topic of conversation in my world and, because of what happened last night, I’m not sure that’s necessarily good. 

In trying to understand my incredible gaff, I’ve decided that perhaps it’s similar to the argument made against violence on television and in video games which says that if you see it and hear it on a regular basis, it becomes part of your available-for-use repertoire.  And this is exactly why I totally agree that the R word should be banished from all written and spoken use.  And, this is why I’m RE-taking the pledge to ban the R word from MY vocabulary.  The first time I took the pledge, I thought, “This’ll be easy.  I NEVER use that word!”  But I hear it more now than I ever have in my life and so, I guess, when push came to shove, there it was coming out of my own mouth!  Well THIS time, I’m taking the pledge to not EVER say the R word again!  I’m not going to speak it or write it! It’s GONE from my vocabulary! I’m forever BANNING THE R WORD from existence in my brain so it never has the opportunity to slip from my mouth again! 

I recently wrote about not calling someone on their use of the R word.  Well, I’ve called MYSELF out very publicly here.  I do not want you all to think I’m a  hypocrite.  I’m human and I made a mistake that I’m trying to understand so it NEVER happens again!  I offer you each a personal and heartfelt apology for using the word in such a disparaging way.  I meant no harm to you or insult to your children but I know that’s exactly what I’ve done.  Harmed and insulted!  I slid down the slippery slope and now I need to make the slow and embarrassing climb back up into the good graces of polite society.  I was wrong and I pledge to each of you, I will NOT do it again.  EVER!


About Maggie

I'm a stay-at-home mother of 3 children including a 15-year-old daughter, the Old Soul, and 11-year-old identical twin boys who've been blessed with an extra 21st chromosome (aka: Down Syndrome). I happily spend my time doing all that I can do -- breaking the proverbial box wide open -- to foster my children's development and then sharing what I learn with you through this blog.
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7 Responses to Down Syndrome Awareness — The Dreaded R Word Spoken In My Very Own Home

  1. Anonymous says:

    Forgive yourself Maggie….Everyone slips up now and then

  2. Melissa M says:

    Bravo for being honest and calling yourself out. The word is so prevalent in conversations these days that it does slip into my mind on occasion. And I hate that its there, even though it hasn't passed my lips.

  3. starrlife says:

    It sounds like you've been so focused on it that a word not even in your vocabulary became real! Hugs-we are only human.

  4. Sharlene T. says:

    It's exactly as you said, you've been involved in the program that uses the word and it did find a place in your subconscious… but, geez, go easy on yourself… you made a mistake, that's all… who, among us, hasn't?

  5. You're too hard on yourself. Sometimes when we try so hard not to say something it just slips out from no where. It happens girl….susan

  6. Stacy says:

    OOPS, you did it, you owned it (thank you) now get over it!! I still luv ya girl 🙂

  7. Kimberly says:

    Maybe now you'll be even more effective in your quest because you have personal experience with having to re-remove it from your vocabulary! People will now know you understand what it means to slip up when you don't mean to, which means they may be more apt to listen to you. Maybe it's a really wonderful thing as sometimes messing up can be.

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