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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The "R" Word

I just saw the funniest status on a young man's facebook page and I simply have to share it.  He said "My chemistry teacher is retarted" . . . did you catch that? RETARTED???? My first inclination was to leave a smarmy comment related to learning to spell the word "retarded"  but I restrained myself and ran right over to this blog to give the thoughts pinging around in my head a place to land.
First, I have to say that I had no idea I was supposed to be extraordinarily offended by the use of the word "retarded" until I adopted a child with Down Syndrome. Now it seems every other day my inbox is inundated with the names of various companies I'm to boycott because they advertise during a TV show that uses the "R" word.   There is a laundry list of web sites I can no longer purchase from because they sell t-shirts or bumper stickers that use that monicker as well.  The way things are going, I'm going to have to grow all my own vegetables and make my own clothing in order to boycott all the companies that are either directly or indirectly related to the misuse of the word "retard", "retarded" or "tard", for short. I had to get rid of my fire extinguisher because the label clearly states it contains . . . you guessed it . . . RETARDANT (okay, not really but I'll bet somebody, somewhere . . .).
  I am finally getting a glimpse of what life must be like for folks inside a persecuted minority.  It's tiring.  I can't keep it all straight.  For the record, let me state that I know the "R" word is  not a nice word.  It's generally used to make fun of a person or to denigrate someone who has made a faux paux.  I have used it. And not just as a child. I have used it for the sake of humor with no regard to my listeners. I have actually asked my husband if he is, in fact, retarded.  It was wrong.
That being said, I can not decide whether or not to link arms with my fellow offended parents of special needs children or to blow off the whole campaign to obliterate the use of the "R" word.  I truly am torn.  The fact of the matter is, my son is retarded. His development is delayed in all streams. He is three and can not speak. He is not potty trained and doesn't show the slightest interest. He is light years behind his peers in all  areas.  Aside from being retarded, he is beautiful, funny, cuddly, adorable, incessantly happy, a light in every room he enters, the star of the show every time we go out in public, a friend to every child, an amazing little brother and a terrific son.  He is made in the image of a Holy God and he is exactly who he was created to be.  If I believed in magic, I would say he's magical but I don't. There is something so profoundly magnetic and awe inspiring about him that I haven't found the right word for it yet.
If a person who is retarded can be all those things, too, maybe the "R" word isn't such a cuss.  Maybe we MAKE it one by flipping out every time a careless teen tosses it around on TV.  I  just don't know.  What I do know is that out of respect for those who have been injured by it, I will no longer use the "R" word or allow it to be spoken in my home.   Maybe my view on this debate will change and I will be blogging my readers those long lists of companies to yank dollars from but for now, I think I'll not make myself the conscience of someone else.  I can only imagine the offensive things I do and say on a daily basis, unaware, that open wounds of another person.  I have a lot of cleaning to do in my own backyard before I take on the neighborhood, you know what I mean? 
"Retarded", "special needs", "handicapped", "disabled", "developmentally delayed" . . . those are all words that could be applied to my son.  To us, he's just about as close to perfect as someone on this earth can be.
There's no debate about that!


  1. Wonderful post! I also battle with how strong to be with these words that seem so common place to most. We do not speak it at home, but I don't tend to flip out over except that for some reason I just don't like the sound of it. I have an aversion to words like "shut up", "stupid", the "r" word, more for how they sound when spoken...sort of harsh and mean. Does that make sense.
    Anyway, I just love your take on it and it makes me smile a big ole smile to hear you talk about that beautiful little man of yours. What a blessing.

  2. Wow!!! This was just the most awesome "God thing" that happened to me today. I stumbled across your blog today (for the life of me I can't remember how I ended up here...)and started reading through some of your posts. I am always drawn to read adoption blogs, as we adopted a beautiful African American baby girl last year. Anyway, just today, a dear friend of mine informed me that she told someone (who she thought couldn't understand what "special needs" meant) my daughter was "retarded". I have NEVER had anyone say those words in the same sentence as my daughter's name, and it tore me apart...Your post was just a salve for this wounded heart, and I thank you!! We have a bio daughter who has been diagnosed with PDD (an autism spectrum disorder), and it has been a long and beautiful road with her so far. We are so thankful for all the ways she has taught us to be compassionate people. God bless you and your family as you follow the path He has set out for you!