Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The word "retard"

I have thought a lot about this. I remember using that word, but as I got older it didn't come to mind without that tinge of "I shouldn't use that word." I have had elderly relatives use that word because, to them, it is a blanket term for anybody dealing with delays or physical shortcomings. It really used to bother me A LOT until I realized that it is just a misunderstood word. It really does mean slow which could translate into delays or physical impairments. It did, at least in my life, have a separate incarnation as a derogatory word used to make fun of anybody you didn't like and it was often accompanied by a curled up fist hitting the chest in a way that I see my Becca doing now with her snarled muscles. It breaks my heart that I EVER did that. How could I have thought that was okay? Well, because I didn't know then what I know now. I didn't know a lot of things then that I understand now. I have to give people the benefit of the doubt even if they are much older than me... they just don't know what I know. How could they? They haven't had half of the experiences I have had dealing with disabilities, doctors, the whole shebang. How could they possibly understand? Well, hopefully after they've met me, or grown up with me as their parent or been my true friend, they'll never look at ignorant words like that the same and they'll never ever use them again against somebody. It's one thing to look back and regret things we said or did in innocence and quite another to learn from our mistakes and help others along the way.

I remember having this kind and yes, sometimes pitying, feeling towards the special needs kids in my schools, but I never did anything about it. I never pointed or made fun, but I also never went and sat by them and tried to make a friend. The one I remember talking to once in a while was Julie. She rode my bus. She was big, like a high schooler, but rode the bus with us in Elementary. She was always already on the bus when we got on and always sat in the seat right behind the driver. She would bounce against the back of the seat rhythmically and it would get faster and faster when she was excited. She carried around one of those little black flat tape recorders and it had a Winnie the Pooh tape in it that she could rewind and play over and over. :) She would talk to the bus driver the whole time we were driving and the bus driver would always talk to her and smile at her in the mirror, so we knew she was nice. I remember saying hi and she'd stop bouncing to turn and look at us, but sometimes she'd just look at us in that shy "I don't know you" way. I'll bet her Mom worried about what we might say to her. She probably had a hard time putting her on the bus for the first time, the second time and maybe even the twenty seventh time. She probably had a spare Winnie the Pooh tape at home, most likely several, for when the constant rewinding and playing finally snapped the tape ribbon. I get it now. I didn't then. And that's okay.