When Kevin was 3, he got one of those Fisher Price tape recorders (do they even make them anymore now that everything's digital?), and he went through a phase that lasted several months during which he had that recorder with him at all times. He loved to record himself, and me and Michael. Sometimes he recorded us when we didn't know we were being recorded.
Yesterday I was going through some old keepsakes and mementos and I came across 3 casette tapes with no labels. I knew they must be some of the old stuff Kevin recorded all those years ago, and I thought it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane and hear Kevin at age 3. So I popped the tapes into the tape player in Kevin and Joey's room and were having a grand old time listening to "Little Kevin" from 9 years ago - singing, talking to us, talking to his stuffed animals, etc. Michael quizzing Kevin, me scolding Kevin, etc. Good stuff. Kevin and Joey and I were sitting there cracking up. Then all of a sudden, clear as day:
"You're so retarded!" Laughing. Me. Me, saying that to Michael. Michael talking in a goofy voice and laughing too.
Kevin and Joey looked at me with eyes as big as saucers. I felt sick to my stomach.
I know I used to use that word. But hearing myself say it . . . was just a lot different than knowing in some abstract way that I used to use demoralizing language like that. So casually.
Who the hell did I think I was? Did I think I was superior because disability hadn't touched my life personally? Did I just not know any better? No. I should have known better. I must have known better. I was an adult for god's sake. A mother! And that was the example I was setting for my 3-year-old child. I'm sure I thought it was harmless, and that I could afford the luxury of being so arrogant because my kid was "normal" (hell, he was gifted!), and I didn't personally know anyone with any disability. And now my 12-year old child and my 6-year old child got to hear their mom say it.
And this is the way the world works. People use this language because they have not been personally touched by somebody with an impairment. So it means nothing to them. It's just a word. It hasn't been personified for most people. It's abstract. Sticks and stones, and all that.
I find myself feeling angry and personally injured nowadays when I hear that terminology being casually thrown around, meant as a funny insult. Sometimes when I overhear some teenager screeching "RETARD!" to a friend and yucking it up, I feel my face going hot, and I have to supress the urge to march right over and slap them, or scream at them, or both. But what right do I have? I used to be just like them.
And I feel so, so ashamed.
Adieu - After more than two years and 555 posts (556 counting this one!), I'm saying goodbye to Adventures in Motherhood. I'm ready for a change, and I've started ...
6 years ago