Yesterday I was reading Kelle Hampton‘s blog update (one of my very favorite mamas) and saw that it was Down Syndrome Awareness month. She has a sweet little girl, Nella, with down syndrome. While our family and her family are different in so many ways, Kelle’s words have always provided me a plethora of comfort, and on more than one occasion, her thoughts and feelings were also my thoughts and feelings. But yesterday she addressed something that I’ve been meaning to address for a while now.
The “R” word.
Here is an excerpt from her blog post:
“And please, if you do anything this month—make efforts to stop the use of the word “retard” and “retarded” in your family’s vocabulary. Comparing even your own absent-minded actions to a word originally intended to classify individuals with mental disabilities is incredibly hurtful to the families who love someone with special needs. I hear it every time it’s said–in conversation, on television, when people don’t even know I’m listening. I know you’re not talking about my child, and I know that you are kind and accepting of others’ differences. I understand it takes a while to dispose of a word that has for so long been accepted in our society. But know that it stings to hear that word. It stings to have that painful part inside you that’s on alert to defend your child flare up and remind you that there’s a bad word that people use to make fun of your beautiful, wonderful, capable child. Please think about that. Talk to your children about this word and ask them to confidently stand up to their friends who use it.”
I won’t deny it, I used to carelessly throw this word around without even thinking about it. I’ve removed it completely from my vocabulary and hope you do too. It’s easy to get rid of, honest. There are so many other things you can say without having to use such a derogatory term. Because that’s what it is. Completely derogatory. It’s hurtful, plain and simple.
Since it’s Down Syndrome Awareness month, I just wanted to share a little story that will forever be burned into my memory.
Ryan, Emmett and I were at the mall when Emmett was just a few months old. I remember being completely exhausted from the hospital stay, the numerous trips to the ER and visits to the doctor. It was one of the first times we had taken Emmett out and had lunch at the mall (fancy, I know). There was a family sitting near us in the food court and they had two little boys. One had down syndrome. He looked to be about 5 years old and his brother a year or so younger than him. And then I looked around and saw so many people staring at him. And pointing. Two teenagers passed by, pointed at him and started to laugh. It took everything for me not to break down and cry in the food court. There I sat, with our precious little Emmett beside us, and all I could think of was, “Will people ever stare at Emmett and laugh at him?”
I’ve always been very aware and sensitive to the behavior of others around me. My best friend growing up, and still to this day, is a little person. I think our group of friends could agree with how we felt the need to protect her from the pointing, the staring, and yes, the derogatory name calling. And to be honest, she probably didn’t even need our “protection”. She’s always been one of the strongest people I know and has never let anyone get under her skin.
And that’s the feeling I got from the little boy with down syndrome that day. After we were done eating we wandered the mall a little bit, and I saw him and his family again. He and his mother were running around in circles chasing each other. He was laughing and she was smiling. It was one of those moments that happened in slow motion and then just froze in time. It was a visual representation of happiness happening right in front of me. It seriously filled my heart with so much joy. I think of this family often and wish I could contact them today. It’s funny how such a random trip to the mall has given me such a special memory. And it’s those little experiences that make me think everything’s going to be ok. All you can do is show everyone around you that differences don’t matter. And for those people that are so hung up on differences and use derogatory terms, you just have to try to educate them.
Here’s a great little video that Kelle had posted on her blog. Show your kiddos! It’ll help teach them the importance of acceptance and inclusion.