At a recent group speech therapy session with my daughter I had a run in with the R-Word. But not in the way you might think.
Parents watch these classes via closed circuit television from a separate room. It’s usually mothers, but at this session there were two dads in the mix. As the other moms and I watched and listened intently to the class, the two dads chatted about golf and business and other random topics. Instead of hyper-focussing on their kids the entire hour, they were relaxed, enjoying some social time, talking about subjects other than their children. Imagine that.
Whenever I’m in the presence of other moms who also have a child with special needs, the go-to topic of conversation is always our children. “What’s your child’s diagnosis? When did they start walking? Who’s their OT? Seizures? Are they on the spectrum?” etc. etc. etc. Truthfully, it’s kind of exhausting.
And then here are these two dads—chatty, laid back, unconcerned.
I eavesdropped as one of the dads relayed this story about his daughter to the other dad .
“We’re at this indoor playground and I see Kira push another kid. The kid’s mother runs over and starts telling Kira off. So I go over and say, ‘Sorry about that.’ And she gives me this death stare. So I say, ‘She didn’t mean to push, she’s retarded. *shrug* whaddya gonna do?’ She looked at me all horrified, apologized, and skulked off.”
The other dad smiled and nodded in a “high five dude” sort of way.
He called his daughter retarded. The r-word was suddenly just ‘out there,’ so sharp it cut through the air and landed right in my lap. I didn’t know what to do with it at first.
“Can he say that? I can’t believe he said that! Aren’t we fighting to end that word?!”
People have taken the word retarded and twisted it into something vicious and ugly. Now it’s so loaded that even parents of kids with intellectual disabilities don’t feel comfortable using it, even in the proper context. When that dad used it as an authentic descriptor, matter-of-factly and without shame, ultimately he took ownership of the word. To be totally honest, it was kind of liberating. By definition, Kira is mentally retarded. So is Avery.
Gut punch. Just typing that makes me cringe.
But why though? Retarded means slow. Avery is indeed slow to learn. That’s a fact. And nothing to be ashamed of.
I guess the bottom line is that we, as parents of children with cognitive challenges, have to stop obsessing over semantics. All we really need to do is remember is who we’re talking about.
Our kids are more, so, so, so, SO much more than their mental capacity.
More than a word, my child is humour, and bravery, and compassion, and curiosity, and deep brown eyes and dimples, and heart-felt hugs, and devotion, and unconditional love.
When I stop focussing on that stupid word and its bastardized definition, I start to relax about it all, just like those two easy-going dads. They love their girls and accept them for everything they are, and everything they are not. Isn’t that what we all should do?