Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The "R" word

I was reading a blog that got me thinking about my feelings regarding the "R" word. I know there are strong advocates out there that are on a mission to teach the world about the cruelty of this word but I have not been one of them. It is a sensitive issue for most people but it can be extremely hurtful for those of us that have a child with Down syndrome. I feel like most people don't intentionally use that word to be hurtful, but rather use it in ignorance and thoughtlessness. But it still hurts when I hear others say it. In fact, I used to enjoy reading a blog that I thought was pretty funny until she decided to write a post about "The other sister" and jokingly used the word throughout the post. I now feel differently about that person and I haven't even ever met her. Even though I am sure she didn't mean to hurt anyone. It just happens. It isn't a nice word and no one ever uses it in their vocabulary in a positive, kind way.

I feel like I have always had a strong acceptance for others with disabilities (long before Morgan came into my life)--my best friend in 6th grade was deaf and I never thought about her being different. I just felt fortunate to have a friend that was teaching me ASL and that we were able to communicate without others understanding us. So I would never intentionally use a word that I knew was hurtful to so many. And I probably would have never realized I used that word until after Morgan was born.
A few weeks after Morgan was born, I was taking a picture of all my kids together and my oldest (then 5 years old) kept crossing his eyes to be funny. I was tired of trying to get a good family picture and having him do that every time. I quickly said, "Jack quit crossing your eyes in the picture. You look retarded!" That is when I looked at my new, little baby daughter, innocent and beautiful. And realized I had just used a term that didn't fit her at all and knew that I NEVER wanted to use that word again and didn't even know why I had said it in the first place.

People just don't know. It starts with educating those around you but also choosing to ignore the comment and understanding that they do not mean harm. I have a good friend that frequently uses that word in place of 'stupid'. I have made several comments to her as have my children to her kids when they say it around them but it is obvious that that word is a habit for everyone in their family. Just a few nights ago her husband said to me, "I swear my kids are retarded. Do you ever feel that way?" To which I responded, "Yes, I do, Morgan has Down syndrome." He quickly said, "No, that's not what I meant...that is just sweetness." But see Morgan does have mental retardation but I haven't ever seen her hit her hand repetitively against her chest like a Love and Logic teacher did when describing how "retarded" something was that she had done. Nor would I describe Morgan as stupid. She is one smart cookie -- she just needs more repetition and time than 'typical' kids to learn new things. She knows her letters, numbers, sounds, and is getting ready to start reading just like her peers that are also starting kindergarten.

But I also have friends that have noticed my sensitivity to the term and have had FHE lessons on disabilities and the "R" word and why it is derogatory and not interchangeable for 'stupid'. My children's friends frequently explain to me all the things they know about Morgan (so cute!) when they are over at my house which makes it obvious that their family has discussed Down syndrome and Morgan with them. One of the most recent things one little girl said was, "Did you know that Morgan proved herself in heaven because her spirit is so strong and she will automatically live with Jesus Christ again, but even though she isn't being tested, she might test others around her?" I LOVED the last part because Morgan definitely does test those around her! She is here to teach me more patience and understanding. Which is what we all need to do with those around us that just don't understand the hurt that word causes us. But in the meantime, if you are reading this post and never really thought about the "R" word, take this opportunity to educate yourself and expand your vocabulary with a different word that really means what you are trying to say! Thanks! I will now get off my soapbox! :)

11 comments:

Grandma Bethany said...

I agree completely with everything you just wrote. I feel the same about the word 'idiot' which I have been known to use, but hopefully not again. (Usually when upset with the way someone is driving).
Since Morgan was born and has blessed our lives, I am much more observant of what I and others say.
Good comments that needed to be said.

COOLWHIP said...

I will not use the word, and my kids don't. But i am not offended when others do. Since Eva, i notice it more than i ever did, but i wouldn't want people to feel like they needed to tip toe around the fact that Eva is and always will have a retarded mental capacity. It's not one of the important things about her. I always liken it to a retardondo in music. To slow something down. And it does take her a little longer to learn things, she's a little slower. And since the way people use it in a sentence has no baring on who she is, i don't liken the two to each other. Her down Syndrome is one of the most endearing things about my bright, loving, compassionate, little Eva.

Scarehaircare said...

When I hear that word being used I always turn to the speaker and say (calmly, of course) "You mean stupid." I usually have to repeat it again as they aren't sure of what I am speaking. If The Love Magnet is there, its self explanitory. If she is not then I tell them about The Love Magnet and how the word is hurtful. They usually correct themselves and never (or rarely) use it again. The only exception has been one of my sisters-in-love. She still uses it. I still love her. I still correct her. One of these days....

heather said...

I agree Coolwhip that when the word is used correctly that it is not offensive. Unfortunately I NEVER hear it used correctly except by other moms who also have a child with a disability.

K&K said...

i enjoyed this post because I have been having these feelings lately too and don't really know how to handle them. I had a hard time the other day because 2 of my closest friends were making jokes using the word "special" in a very negative way and that really hurt-especially because they had no idea what they were doing. I am still pretty new at this so I don't no how to handle it well. I love what you said to your friend and I hope that I can learn to educate people in a kind manner so they understand my point of view.

Brittany said...

I agree Heather, it is too bad that a lot of us say things with out thinking. We have told Grace that it is not nice to say stupid, and so now she catches us when we say it! So it has been good because now Jamie and I don't say it! We love Morgan so much, and your whole cute family! I know your kids are a lot of work, but keep it up! You are doing such a good job with them.

Ursenbach Family said...

Removing that word from my daily vocabulary was really hard for me. I remember after Jackson was born I started noticing how much I said it, and it broke my heart every time it slipped out. It is a word that’s meaning has been twisted so much and now is as common as the word happy! Over the years I have successfully eliminated it from my vocabulary and taught all of our family and friends that it is offensive. Every person who I have asked to please not use the word has come back with a story about how they didn't realize what a terrible word it was until attention was drawn to it. I am proud of you for making this post!

PS. Where is Morgan going to school next year?

Toni Mehraban said...

I feel the same way with "retard" as I do with "gay". These words were never meant to be used as adjectives. I try to correct all of my family/friends who use these words incorrectly and I hope that your post educates and changes people's use of those words.

Jenni and Chad Stewart said...

I have to agree. Educating people is key. I am one who has been guilty of throwing around the "R" word in the past. As "Ursenbach Family" said, the word has been used sooo much and meaning has been twisted around so much that people don't think about what it REALLY means. But I do now, and it hurts my heart when I hear other people say it too.

happycfam said...

Hi! Thank you for your sweet comment on our blog. And thank you for your post about this important issue, I couldn't agree more.
I love meeting other families who have so much in common with our own family. Thanks!

Melanie said...

Heather! I appreciated this post! I have been a pro-parent advisor to my niece (who has a retarded mental capacity, during this past year and a half. So many times I have caught myself saying this word outloud in her presence. It is usually when I am describing myself...something I've done...but I never realized I used it so often...until it hit me that she might be offended by it. I have been working on eliminating this word from my vocabulary since then. It's a habit that still slips out...but I am hoping to conquer it soon.