Any mother of a child with special needs will tell you the same thing. They no longer see the world the way they used too. Not only does your mind get opened up to a group of people that you might never have related with, but your soul gets touched by the experiences of everyone you encounter with special needs even though theirs may be drastically different than yours. Because deep down, we all end up dealing with the same struggles.
We learn to let go of certain dreams, to focus on the small things, to enjoy each day as it comes and never take anything with your child for granted.
And we also learn to deal with people's ignorance.
Case in point:
People go around using the word retard today in reference to anything and everything that might be considered stupid. They use it ALL THE TIME. That driver is a retard, they didn't even signal! That idiot didn't even stop! What a retard. He's retarded. Everyone seems to say it now. It's so common place that little kids are using it in their everyday language.
And the reason for that? An ever evolving English language and ignorance.
Ignorance because people must not have any knowledge about how hurtful this word is to so many people.
Ignorance because they keep using this word in a manner that is degrading not only to people with disabilities but to the people who love and take care of them.
And ignorance about what exactly the word retard means.
I will be the first to admit that this was a word I used. And it's a word my children ended up using. I never, ever would have used it to describe a person, but I definitely would have used it in the scenario I described above.
But, then Liam came along and I saw that new world. I've never been able to go back and see the world again the way I thought that it was. It has forever been changed for me. Long before Liam started showing signs of global developmental delays due to his extreme prematurity, I would read blogs of moms with kids who didn't have the issues Liam faced and their kids were teased as retarded. I read the anguish in the parents posts and I felt their pain too because I know this world isn't an easy place. I knew that the time could come when Liam might get teased and the momma bear in me knew right then and there that I could never allow my kids or myself to say that word again. It's too painful and disrespectful. This word has been taken out of context (for it is defined as to make slow or to hinder) and used for the most asinine of conversations.
But one thing really drove home for me that this was a word that is no longer acceptable in my life.
I was at the park this week swinging with Liam on the swings. He loves the movement and not only giggled at Aidan whizzing by but was laughing at our own motions together as we flew through the air. Two swings down from me is a swing for kids with disabilities (I am so proud of our park for putting one in because I have never been to another park, anywhere, that had one) but it is way too big for Liam. Aidan, my 8 year old can sit in it it's so large. Well, two girls about 8 or 9 sat down in the seats beside me with one of them sitting in the 'special' swing. An older teen girl started pushing her in it and said, "You are such a retard. You're sitting in the retard swing." And then the girl laughed and proceeded to echo her by saying the exact thing back to her. Then the other young friend on the regular swing started in saying "You are so retarded you have to sit in the retard swing." The two young girls mocked and ridiculed 'retards' all the while laughing at their funny jokes.
I was so mad I was shaking. I knew I couldn't say anything rational while so angry so I didn't speak up. The conversation with the 3 girls transitioned over to their IQ's and to who did better on their end of year tests when one of the girls said that her score was better so she obviously wasn't the retard.
That was when I decided I had to say something.
I turned my head to the girls and said, "You should not use the word retard because it isn't nice. That is not a retard swing. You are sitting in a swing that is meant for people with disabilities. Having a physical disability or any disability does not make someone a retard. Retard means slow and it is offensive to use."
That was all I felt I could say. I don't know if they care what I had to say or if they understood what I said, but I knew I had to say something. The girls started to go back to their conversation about their IQ's and tests and the teenager told them that that was enough so it curbed any further dialogue from them.
Although I was so angry for their callous use of that word and their very description of the kinds of people who would use that swing, my heart was broken over the realization that ignorance to the prevalence of this word and it's hurtfulness to so many people continues on unabated.
I have vowed to never use that word nor are my children allowed. They know why. And I hope we, as a family, can take the step to say to our friends and family why we won't use that word anymore and why we would appreciate it if they chose a different word to describe something.
The next time you hear that word, think about all of us families with kids with special needs and how we feel about that word. Because it isn't just a word to us.
*Short bus, lame and special ed all apply here as well.