While Gabriella and I were at the aquarium in California, we were there at the tail end of probably 20 field trip groups. There were kids everywhere with their matching shirts or buddies. The ticket lady told us by 1-2pm they all clear out, so until then we had to just deal with the crowds. Gabriella's favorite thing was touching the animals... bat rays, sharks, starfish, etc, but it was difficult to get to them with all the kids around. While we were waiting in line for the coral & star display, Gabriella and I were having one of our special conversations- the ones only her and I understand. One of the field-trippers, possible 8 or 9 years old, had been observing our conversation, staring the way kids do best. (the way kids stand there and stare to scope each other out cracks me up). When I gave him a smile, he asked me "is she retarded or something?"
I am guilty. I used to use the R-word in casual conversation, to substitute for the word stupid or dumb or ignorant. It was a bad habit picked up from peers and, like most others, never gave much thought to the reality of the word. It wasn't until I was faced myself with a child having a developmental delay (acquired, but nonetheless it is a delay) that I FELT the hurt in the word. I began to fear what Gabriella would face as she got older, not being able to talk like other kids. I could picture the taunts and words she would be faced with from uninformed kids. I learned my lesson on the R-word.
I kept this all to myself for about a week, until I saw on Twitter a tweeter called @endtheword and they were running a campaign to spread awareness and stop casual usage of the R-word. Then I read a blog entry from a woman, titled 'Reasons to not use the R-word'. I felt compelled to repost the updates they were putting online. A friend asked me if people really do still use that, and I mentioned our experience. I didn't want to make a big deal out of what happened with Gabriella, because I was dealing with a pain in my own heart about the day she realizes what that word means.
What did I say to that little boy? Sure, natural instinct would be to get angry.... but I'm convinced that boy didn't ask me that to be hateful. He asked it because he hasn't been taught what the word actually means, how it hurts and has heard too many people use it casually, so he saw someone different and felt it appropriate. I told him that Gabriella had an injury in her brain that took her words, and she was working very hard to get them back, but she was just like other kids. He just looked and said "oh." For that moment I hated that word. He used it because he has learned that the R-word can be casually used. Yes, being mentally retarded is a real condition, but it is not something people should go around using casually to jazz up a conversation. It would be like using the word 'cancerous' as a word substitution when poking fun. That's not funny, is it?
I had never intended for this to make it to my blog. I don't want to ever place Gabriella's condition over people who have things so much harder. Sure, Gabriella has a weak and dysfunctional arm, and she cannot talk properly, but she can more than partially recover with hard work. I have lovely friends, in real life and online, who have kids with physical or mental limitations that cannot be recovered from. I look up to those moms who care for those kids. A local friend, Sherry.... an online friend, Heather (who posted a wonder blog entry about explaining handicap to kids).... and so many more.... have become heroes in my eyes. To see the dedication to and positive outlooks on their kids with CP or Downs and other limitations reminds me of the beauty of being 'imperfect', yet 'perfect' in God's sight. And my passion for the R-word being removed as an everyday, casual word to replace other demeaning descriptive words is not just because I have and will face it with Gabriella, but because I can only imagine the pain other mothers feel when their child is taunted with it as well. When I think about Gabriella as she becomes a woman who will still struggle with her speech, I can only imagine the pain and depression she, or any adult with delays or handicap may feel, by overhearing such a simple word to the average person being used when it had debilitated her entire life and she had fought so hard to conform to 'normal' society and overcome her delay.
What if WE are all abnormal? Maybe, in God's eyes, that child with CP or Downs, or my daughter with a failing heart, are normal? Society has placed guidelines on what is normal, but what would happen if we all considered that a certain size or healthiness or appearance is not what makes you normal, but rather the way you live life and love people are what distinguishes people as normal or not? God created us all perfect to His design. I think it is our job to teach our kids, the society of the future, to respect that.... Parents, lead by example.