|August 12, 2010 ~ Romeo, Cal, Lola, Me (holy brown hair!), & Claire ~ a few weeks after "the incident"|
I think part of the reason I have struggled with writing this is because it evokes so much anger and disappointment and intense sadness within my soul. And because it hits so close to home. And because it involves my kids, each of whom are *SO* important to me ~ such an extension of my own heart. And because it hits me below the belt with my OWN issues, experiences, and triggers in this life.
The reason it hurts so much is because Cal said the word "retard."
There are NO WORDS for how this made me feel... how to react, respond... whether to lash out or protect... to punish or to cry... scream or run away.
I think the reason it's NOW OK to tell this story is because you all sort of "know" Cal at this point. You know what his sisters mean to him. You know his intense love for them. You know how intelligent, caring, sweet, and giving he is. You know that his heart is pure and full of love. And now you know that he is human, too.
Let me tell you more...
It was last summer, and we had spent the evening with friends. I heard one of the kids (not Cal) call someone a "retard." Now, if you know me, you know that this word is probably my least favorite word in the English language. (I LOVE the F word, I am crazy-proud of Cal for inventing his own curse word at age 2-3 (Dode! This is freakin' GENIUS!!!), and though I despise the C word, it doesn't set me off like the R word does.) It takes a LOT to offend me, and I have one of the biggest potty mouths I know, but this simple word -- retard (or retarded) -- evokes a shitstorm within me of epic proportions. It didn't used to... and if you ask any of my friends from middle or high school, you'll discover that I frequently used these words then. It meant NOTHING to me at that time. I joked about "the short bus" and "tards" and other unmentionable things, so I too was not perfect. I am ashamed that I used to say those things. Yet it took me giving birth and life to Claire & Lola to see how derogatory these words truly were. NEVER EVEN CROSSED MY MIND -- and NO ONE told me this was not acceptable. I wish I knew.
Hell, a few months after Claire was born, I was driving in a Dillon's parking lot on a cold winter day when I spotted some harmless Knights of Columbus workers wearing vests which read, "HELP RETARDED CHILDREN" on the back and collecting money for their organization. You'd shit your pants if you saw how fast I jerked my car into PARK (delaying several cars behind me and coming toward me), hopped out of it, and jump-straddled some poor guy's ass for wearing such an insulting slogan on the back of his vest, as if HE himself was the one who designed the damn thing with hate in his heart. OMG! I shouted, "I AM THE PARENT OF A QUOTE RETARDED CHILD END QUOTE AND I DO NOT APPRECIATE YOU WEARING SUCH AN OUTDATED, RUDE, INAPPROPRIATE VEST!!! The PROPER terminology is 'special needs' these days!!!!!!!!!!!" Dude stood there speechless then said, "I'll pass that on. Thanks." I stormed off, got in my car, parked it, and bawled my eyes out for my sweet Claire, for her disability, for myself, for my family and how CHANGED our lives would now be forever -- whether she lived or died. It was so NEW... the "wound" so fresh. THIS KILLED ME. I will say, the next year I saw these guys out again, and they had on new vests which read, "HELP HANDICAPPED CHILDREN." For some reason, that actually felt BETTER to me. I stayed in my car this time and after much deliberation convinced myself I had indeed WON. Yes, I DO have issues. :)
OK, so back to the story. The word "retard" is thrown around, I f'ing FREAK OUT, race over to the person who said it (whom I ADORE!!!!!) and without even thinking, I UNLOAD... "YOU WILL NOT use the word 'retard' EVER AGAIN!!! Do you know how hurtful that word is to me -- to Claire and Lola? Do you even know what it means?????" "Ummm, no. I don't know what it means. I only said it because HE DID (and she points to our beloved son, Cal)."
I almost don't even know how to proceed writing the rest of this blog post at this point. My emotions are all flooding back... I don't want you to think less of Cal!!! And let me say, it has taken me several months to convince him that telling his story will help SO many people. That no one is going to hate him. That disappointments DO happen and lessons can be learned and people can make choices to do things differently because NOW THEY KNOW. They've been taught. They too have grown. He is still hesitant but tells me it's now OK to share it. But it brought back all the emotions for him, too... I promised him I would not post this without him reading it and approving of it, and let's just say, it was painful for ALL of us.
The second the finger was pointed, he looked at me, then at Scott, and he immediately threw his head down in his lap and BAWLED -- harder than I've ever seen him bawl -- for a good 20-30 minutes. Things such as, "I wasn't thinking!" and "I am DUMB!!!!!" were shouted... more tears... "I AM SOOOOOO SORRY!"... SO MUCH ANGER inside of me now... HOW COULD HE??? I remember yelling, "It feels like you just punched me in the stomach!!!" and he cried even harder. My sweet boy! How could he disrespect Claire and Lola like that?!?!?! He loves them SO MUCH!!!!!
We rode home the next 20 minutes in silence after that. So many things swirled through my head. We had talked to Cal SO MANY TIMES about this word, what it meant, how it was slang and hurtful and if he *EVER* heard someone call his sisters "retards," he had our permission to KNOCK THEM THE F OUT!!! (HA!) Heck, just about 10 days prior we'd discussed this word & how awful it was -- the equivalent of a racial slur, which were COMPLETELY unacceptable to use under ANY circumstances. So WHY THEN? WHY would he say that at all knowing his parents provide constant, loving total care for two "retarded" children 24/7/365, these are his only siblings, he loves them with EVERY FIBER IN HIS BEING, he KNOWS what their lives mean, he KNOWS their prognoses stated that they might not live to be 1 year old and HE was the one who said, "I don't care, Mom, I just want to know them!!!!!!!! For however long we are meant to!" This is the SAME CHILD who asked me why I was doing genetic testing on the girls. I told him I was partly doing it FOR HIM so that someday maybe he and his future wife might not have a child with special needs and he said, "Mom, I wouldn't care if I had a baby like Claire and Lola. I love my sisters as they are. I would still be lucky."
Scott and I had a VERY loooooooooong talk about the whole ordeal, what Cal's punishment should be, and why our son would EVER do such a thing. We decided that his punishment would be this: He would have to call each of the other three children involved, apologize for using the word "retard" and explain to them why it is wrong and why no one should ever say it again. Secondly, he would write Scott & me a letter about his own thoughts, feelings and what he had learned -- about his sisters, using that word, why it's inappropriate, why he won't do it again, how sorry he is, etc. It needed to be at least one notebook page in length.
We also discussed the situation more in depth, and again, Cal was extremely remorseful, crying through most of our discussion. Again and again he said he didn't think of his sisters as "retarded" at all. He didn't associate using that word with THEM. I reminded him that this wasn't just an insult to Claire and Lola but to ALL the beautiful, amazing children we knew who happened to have special needs, who were "differently abled," who have "intellectual disabilities," who sport souped-up genes. These kiddos have done nothing but provide LOVE to us, their hearts are pure and innocent, and they are counting on US to be their voices, have their backs, and return nothing but love. Cal got it. He got it so much that THIS is the beautiful, tearjerker of a letter I got in return: (please click on it to see it full sized)
Again, NO WORDS for what this meant to me then and will ALWAYS mean to me. In the end, I KNOW it's "just a word," but it's a word I hope to help eradicate from the English language through my incredible, awe-inspiring son, Cal. I want to point out that after reading this blog post (prior to me posting it), Cal was visibly upset. He felt disappointed in himself, wished he had never uttered that word, and we spent some time discussing how this experience shaped him and made him into the individual he is today. His one comment to me was, "Mom, I haven't been correcting people who use that word enough. I need to do that more. It's just SO HARD." Scott & I agree completely. That will be our mission... together. We are hoping this blog post will help to encourage people to think more about the power of their words and the impact they have on others.
I thank you deeply for allowing me to share this with the world, Cal. You are helping to change lives with your words and actions. I love you more than you could ever know, and I AM SO PROUD OF YOU, Son.
Spread the word to end the word.
The Social Challenge
When you say "retard," someone hurts.
R word counter
The R word store