Wednesday, June 4, 2014

We Todd Did

I remember a joke that went around a while back.  I think I was a teenager at the time, but I don't remember.  In this joke you wrote some words down on a piece of paper and had someone read them. The words were, "I am we Todd did.  I am sofa king we Todd did." The "joke" of it was that if you said these words out loud, you were saying something that you should be genuinely embarrassed to say.  What am I embarrassed about?  I am embarrassed that I laughed at this joke and many others like it.

My son, Benjamin, is 10 months old on Tuesday.  In case you are new to my blog, my son has Down syndrome.  He is the most amazing thing that has or could happen to me in this life of mine.  I am truly, TRULY blessed that he chose me to be his Mama.  To my little bug, my life is complete because you are mine.

Shortly after my son was born, there was this awkward thing that started happening.  Every time someone around my husband and I would use the word "retard" they would immediately apologize to us.  My response has always been, "It's ok.  I used to say it too.  No big deal.".  Unfortunately, that part is true.  I did say it.  I probably said it more times than I realized.  Never,
EVER, did I say it to diminish another person, but I said it.  I said it, and now I realize that regardless of my intent it still did some damage.

My first thought on the stance I would take on the R-Word was this.  I figured that if I used the term "Mental Retardation" in the clinical sense, it would take the power away from it.  If I used it in the "proper" sense, then it wouldn't become such an awkward thing.  I would take away the negative connotation and use it to describe the most basic of clinical things in regard to my child's health.  This seemed reasonable to me in the beginning, until I read an article recently about the House of Representatives removing the term "Mental Retardation" from law.  In this article they spoke to the question of "Doesn't taking a term out of law give the term power making it more of a slur?".  The answer to this question was clear.  As we evolve, so does our language.  People with Down syndrome were once referred to as mongoloids.  Can you imagine if that was still the case?  It started to make me think about other archaic terms.  Imagine if someone called me a wench and thought that was ok.  At one time, it was perfectly acceptable to use this and many other derogatory words for women.

Once I began being honest with myself about the R-Word, it really got me thinking?  Does it bother me?  I thought back to all those awkward moments where someone had said it in front of me.  I don't think I ever would have even noticed before, but now I ALWAYS notice.  Every single time someone says that word there is a quick stab of pain that goes through me.  There are thoughts that go along with that stabbing that make me realize that this word will most likely be used to describe my son at some point in a horrible way.  That word is going to be used to make fun of my sweet little boy.  That word is going to hurt him.  That word is going to be said and used in jokes like the one this blog is titled with and the butt of that joke is my baby boy.  That word is an instantaneous reminder to me of every potential moment in Benny's future where someone will hurt him with their comments.  Once again, I need to turn my defense mechanism of burying any bad feelings off and look at them straight in the face.  If you use the word "Retarded" around me in any manner, if I use the word "Retarded" to describe something clinical, if anyone on television, radio, or the movies uses the word "Retarded", it will be an instant reminder to me of the pain my son might have to endure.

I apologize to anyone that I ignorantly hurt in my past by using this word.  I promise you that if I would have understood what people could feel when that word is used, even if they aren't meaning the word to be offensive, I would have stricken it from my vocabulary a long time ago.  I am so, so sorry.  I am especially sorry that it took me so long to get here.

This being said, here is my stand.  I am going to end the R-Word.  It is going to be erased from my lexicon to be never used again.  As for you all, I implore you to do the same.  I implore you not because I think you would ever use it in anger, or as a jest, but I ask you this to give all of us special needs mamas and daddies a break.  I ask this to give anyone with special needs a break.  I promise you that we have a lot of internal battles to fight, so please find it in your hearts to not add one more with the flippant use of this word.  You have freedom of speech, and so do I, but with that freedom comes great responsibility to understand exactly what effect your words have on people.

After all, how could you ever want to hurt that face?

1 comment:

  1. Labels are all over us as human beings. Some lift us up, others roll off our shoulders, some are neutral and others hurt. It's the power we chose to give them based on our life experiences. Our relationship to those words and their power is very personal. What hurts is when others don't even care to listen to what their choice of words meant to someone
    else. They don't care to truly listen, be open minded or respect the other.


Would love to hear your thought, comments, advice, or emotional outbursts!

-xoxo Jamie