Something on my heart.
The other day, Grandma and I took Luke down to the little playground a few houses down. There were two little girls I didn't know swinging on the swings.
"Ing! Ing! Ing!" happens to be the newest and best thing Luke has to say to us, and so I was pushing his gleeful little self in the infant swings. It was a really pretty day, and Luke was flirting with Grandma and cackling with joy and I just took in just how precious those little simple joys are.
And then I heard the one little girl say to the other girl, "Don't be so retarded."
I couldn't help it. I'd love to say it was the teacher in me, and maybe a bit of it was, but the mother in me couldn't hold back.
"Oh, that's not a very nice word, sweetheart."
I threw the girls off, I think, by even talking to them, much less sort of chastising them.
I went on, because they were both looking at me as if I should.
"I'm sure you don't really mean it to be not very nice, but it's not a nice thing to say to someone."
"Why not?" asked the little girl who was being told NOT to be retarded.
"Because a lot of times, people use it in a mean way to talk about other special people who can't protect themselves or defend themselves. Some people mean it in a really mean way because it makes fun of people who are different than we are. I know you and your friend don't mean it that way, and you probably didn't even know it could be meant that way, but I wanted to be sure you knew so you don't hurt anyone's feelings when you don't mean to."
"Oh," they both said, sort of in unison, and continued to swing. Then the one little girl started to tell the other she could speak French. In an accent and with enunciation that makes me instantly think of National Lampoon's European Vacation, she mangled the phrase, "Parlez vous Francais?" and they went on with their conversation, punctuated every few minutes with making goo-goo eyes at Luke.
Lesson noted. They moved on to a new topic instantly. Without any hesitation.
As a teacher, I've seen my fair share of children who would be dubbed with the "R" word and I can tell you that there are few experiences more rewarding than working with special needs children. I've NEVER allowed my students to bully one another for any reason, and CERTAINLY not children with special needs because their needs made them different.
My great Aunt was a precious woman I adored...she lived to be 70 and had Down's Syndrome. Born in 1919, her family was basically told to institutionalize her and be done with her. Thank God I come from a line of people who would sooner eat raw alligator eyeballs than dismiss ANY life.
John's uncle has pretty profound Asperger's. He has had some rough times in his life, due to ignorance and ridiculous treatments, but again, his family would never allow anyone to discount the importance of his life simply because it was so, so different.
I am heartbroken when I read (far too often, I might add) about women who have persevered through fertility treatments, only to get pregnant and then find out their child had Down's Syndrome and they decided to abort. Please know I am not judging...I cannot imagine what the thought and heart process must be to come to that decision.
Had Matthew lived, we would be looking at some really, really profound issues. SERIOUS issues. The kind where you walk by the kid in the chair or whatever, watch his mom as she is drying his chin from all the drool, and you think, "Poor, poor kid."
We would have taken that in a HEARTBEAT. We would have cherished every single second we could have had with that precious boy, regardless of the condition he was in, and I would have defied a soul to count his life as anything less than the miraculous life I know it to be.
So I get really, really upset when kids today so callously throw that "R" word around...because it is up to US...PARENTS...to stop it.
To stop our children from bullying others because they are different.
To prevent our children from being ok with being hard-hearted.
Stop them from finding joy in hurting others with their words and actions.
Now honestly, those little girls really didn't seem to even know what they were saying. Their innocence in understanding why it was an ugly word was soooo apparent.
And proves how easy it is to just instill in our children (and in us, really...think about any time you've made a joke about the short bus, or someone being a pancake short of a stack, or whatever...you know what I am talking about) how to be kind.
How to accept.
How to eradicate that word and others like it that imply that mental/physical deficits make one a lesser person.
Less human. Less worthy of love.
Because I'll tell you this...I'd give my eye teeth to have had my little boy live. My boys live. No matter what conditions they may have had.
And that words like 'retarded' are still used the way they are just makes my stomach sick.
Just had to get that off my heart.