I remember it like it was yesterday. I was over-exhausted. Overwhelmed. Underpaid. (I kid). Vivi was teething and Whitman was out of control. We were waiting for occupational therapy. I was bouncing Vivi on my hip and chasing Whit. Our stroller was full of Panera bags, cups, and cookies because we had no time between school that was on the second floor and OT which was on the first floor.
Whitman wanted a candy bar and was doing his nonverbal grunts and points at the vending machine. I was trying to coax Whitman away from the vending machine with a sugar cookie and brownie. I was failing at both things. Then a woman with messed up hair, a walker, and reeking of B.O. and cigarettes walked up to me and she said it. I
knew that one day I would be faced with adversity because of Whitman’s lack of language. I thought my first time would be at Target or Wal-Mart. But I never pictured it would happen in the rehab facility. The woman said: “You know he’s a R*** right?! And why in the hell would you bring another into the world?!” She pointed at Vivi. I stood stunned. I didn’t know what to say and I could feel the tears streaming down my face. Thankfully, Whit’s occupational therapist came out and the situation was defused. I told her what happen, pointed out who the woman was from the hallway, then drove home a sobbing mess from therapy that day. I questioned every move I had made as a mom. Was it my fault?! Should we not have had Vivi?! Am I not handling this the way I should be handling this?!
In therapy, Whit’s OT reminded me that Whit wasn’t any of what that woman called him. We have had the IQ tests. Whitman is reluctant to show you what he knows, but trust her, he knows. I saw the woman the following week and felt sick when I did. Her daughter walked up to me and apologized for her mom’s behavior—she had seen it all while she was trying to check her mom in and was mortified. She didn’t make up an excuse for why her mom said it, she said just said how sorry she was. Then added that my kids are cute. It helped a little but the wound is still there two years later.
That word takes away your security. That word makes you feel things as a parent that you should never have to feel. It reminds you of what a cruel place this world is. It makes you wonder what kind of human takes out their anger on a child and his mother who are simply trying to get through the day. We need to stop the stigma that this word is ok. In the dawn of a new era in America’s history, we need to take away that word and replace it with inclusion. We need to teach our kids that being different is fine. That being mean isn’t. That even if the quiet kid in their class doesn’t say “Hi” back you still say “Hi.”
If you see a friend struggling, you help. We need to stop criticizing and blaming parents because their child has special needs. Whitman isn’t the way he is because I did anything. He’s programmed differently and as much as I grieve about that it’s not because he is who is. He’s the best human being. He is a walking miracle. It’s because the world isn’t ready for him and what he can offer. It’s a tad better but not there yet. We have to start teaching our kids to advocate for those who need it. Kindness starts in the home. Hate starts in the home. Letting the R-word fly like confetti starts in the home.
Instead of putting our prejudices that we were raised with, let’s make 2021 the year of kind. The year where rude terms are put to bed. Let’s make 2021 the year where we stop judging other mom’s for doing it a different way than you. Let’s be grateful for our upbringings because it made us the people that we are. The people that our children need us to be. Let’s help others no matter what, without blame, or judgment. Let’s just be decent human beings.
Can we please just make 2021 the year of a new beginning where we don’t have to worry about what society is going to say about our kiddos or us? I will never forget my first encounter with that word. That day fueled a fire in me to be kind. Even if I disagree with the person, we are all different we are all going to have different opinions, even if the person was rude to me earlier. I’m choosing to be a person that my kids would be proud of it and it starts with being kind to everyone.
We as special needs parents need to know that kind is our superpower. We need to be the example for re-educating society if we have any hope of eliminating the hurtful words. Let’s set the bar high this year for ourselves. Let’s get out there in the community and educate the people around us, let’s be kind in our education, and show grace to the broken system that got us here. Let’s move forward with pride that maybe we can be the generation that changes the world, but in order to change the world we have to start at home and in our communities. Baby steps.