I never in a million, billion, gazillion years expected to hear language like that uttered by this person. She's educated, she's compassionate, she's a church-going Christian who often talks about her spirituality. She knows we have a baby who has Down syndrome. And she has a grown son who has issues, including but not limited to ADD and Tourette's syndrome.
Our discussion continued for quite a while after her anecdote, but for a while, I didn't hear anything except the blood pounding in my ears. I felt something close to panic. Do I say something? Do I let it go? What do I do here?
When we were finally wrapping up our discussion, with heart pounding, I said, "I'm going to switch gears here for a minute." Michael knew exactly where I was going, because when she had said "retard" earlier, he gave me a look (not sure what the look meant, but it was an acknowledgment of some kind, I think). She looked at me quizzically, and I plunged ahead. "You know earlier, when you said 'retard'? That hurt. You know Finn has Down syndrome . . . and that word is just very hurtful, and I try to take opportunities to let people know that it's not okay to say things like that." My worst fear was that she would become defensive, but she didn't. She calmly told me that yes, it IS a hurtful term, but she was only using it in the context of the vernacular of the little story she was relaying to us. And I have to at least entertain the possibility that her explanation was true (and not just some made-up, on-the-spot excuse), since apparently that's how Michael had taken it to begin with. So then I am left asking myself, "Am I just too sensitive about this issue? Is my 'retard-radar' turned up too high?"
I don't know where to draw the line. I know that I can't change the world. The slang use of the terms "retarded" and "retard" as put-downs and punch lines seems to be so incredibly ingrained in our society that it almost feels like there is just no way to undo it. Even in literature. I am an avid reader of books - novels, memoirs, etc., and I seriously cannot remember the last book I read that didn't mention the term "retarded" in some context somewhere in it.
Michael and I talked about it last night, and apparently he is not nearly as bothered by the use of those words as I am. Maybe it's a personality thing, and the fact that he's just generally not as easily riled as I am. He said that those words have been used so much, for so long, that to him, they just no longer mean what they originally meant. He said that he really doesn't see Finn that way, anyway, so it's hard to see it as any kind of assault on Finn.
I, on the other hand, take it very personally. I can't seem to help but take it as an insult to Finn, to what he will eventually grow into, to all the people like him. And I don't want him to grow up hearing people throw those words around.
So here I am, left sitting here feeling befuddled about the whole thing.