Wednesday, July 9, 2008

NO! It's wrong!

My friend's 8 year old son took a peek into the crib. He had been wanting to meet Caden but unfortunately they arrived when my 4 month old needed a nap. He watched my baby sleeping for a bit and then looked up at my friend, "He doesn't look funny, Mommy". She showed no signs of embarrassment. "No, he's a cute baby," she whispered back. I knew from this exchange that she had prepped her son for what to expect when he saw my baby. She had tried to explain Down syndrome to him, which I appreciated, but part of her explanation must have included being funny-looking. I knew they meant no harm so I said nothing as we crept out of the room and retreated to the living room sofa.

A little while later a reference was made to my friend's nephew who has autism. She must have also tried to prepare her son for DS by comparing it to autism, a condition with which he was familiar. My friend seemed proud that her son understood this connection and asked him "And what do we call people like Caden and your cousin?" I anticipated the answer: handicapped, disabled, special, etc. But I wasn't prepared for his eager reply of "Retarded!" I held my breath as I waited for my friend to correct him. She doesn't even allow the word "stupid" to be used in her house. Instead she said "That's right!" I was new at this and wanted to let them know how hurtful that word was but couldn't find the courage. Instead I stood there, gape-mouthed, with my silence surely being read as agreement. I wanted to scream "NO! That's NOT right! It's wrong!" but held it inside.

I hate that word, the r-word. I don't mind the clinical diagnosis of mental retardation when used in proper context. But because the r-word is always used as a derogatory term in even the most casual of conversations, it will never be acceptable to me. It is a slur. I know my friends meant nothing by it and I know had I taken the opportunity to educate them, they would never use the word again. They have good hearts and would be hurt to know they offended someone. But because most of the people the word references can't or don't speak up for themselves, the word lingers in our vocabulary. Even mothers like myself find it hard to speak up at times.

Not any more. I am at a place in my journey with Caden where there is too much at stake if I don't find my voice for him. Before having my son, I used the word. I have even used variations of it with my sisters almost as terms of endearment. I had no idea whose feelings I may have hurt and I am embarrassed. "But I don't mean anything by it" is no excuse. The word does mean something to someone else, to a lot of people around us. It means a great deal and wounds even greater. I didn't want to confront my friend at the time, but I see now that it's at the expense of one day hurting my son deeply. Today I can say without a waver in my voice "NO!! NO!! NO!! It's WRONG!"


WheresMyAngels said...

OMgosh, I would of died if that happened to me. I have a new supervisor I had been training and she has been using the "R" word in that bad way? I told her that she HAS to cut it out or she was going to be fired. After all, our jobs are all about working with people with disabilities.

Sabrina said...

My name is Sabrina and I am new to the Blog world. My daughter Abbi also has Downs and is 2 1/2 years old. Check out my blog:
My husband and I just loved the video!! We are both teachers and feel the same way you do about "R" word. I will be attending the NDSC conference in Boston this weekend. Keep up the great blogging!