With the opening of the new movie “Tropic Thunder” I am reminded of my own journey with the word “retarded.” It was part of my vocabulary growing up, as in, “Oh, that was so retarded.” I didn’t think about what I was saying, or maybe I did and it just didn’t matter that much to me. Fast forward to January 2, 2006 when a son with Down syndrome blesses my life with his birth and my understanding and use of that word changes drastically. I don’t use the word “retarded” anymore, although I do use the term “mental retardation” pretty much in a clinical way, not in a judging way. I no longer feel that mental retardation is a terrible thing or something to be feared or looked away from, although there are certainly people who have very difficult lives because of the complications of their condition and for whom I have great compassion.
When we were about six months into the adventure of parenting Kepler, I received and accepted an invitation to visit a weekly women’s group consisting of women from my church. I was deep in a time of learning more about becoming authentic, and learning much about being the parent of a special needs child, and dealing with pumping breast milk around the clock for my little son who couldn’t seem to latch on properly, so it was a very emotional time.
The women’s group was a pretty typical group of ladies who brought both pain and love with them to the meeting. Throughout the evening, I found myself feeling very defensive on behalf of one of the women because I felt like the other women were giving her the message, “Just change your mind and get over this stuff.” At some point, I decided to back off and was nursing some hurt feelings. One of the women I was least comfortable with happened to say the following: “I think dogs are like retarded kids. You can only teach them so much.” Since I was still adjusting to the idea of parenting a “retarded kid” I was aghast, stunned, and overcome with grief. Another woman held me as I cried and no one talked about what had happened. The woman who had made the comment did not know about Kepler. I left the group and never went back and never saw her again. Until . . .
Last week in J.C. Penney (two years after the original event), as I shopped, I caught the eye of a woman pushing a stroller and thought I recognized her. I glanced at her again and sure enough, it was the woman who had made the comment. What I was making up about it was that she recognized me but was ignoring me and I had to choose whether or not to acknowledge her. I knew that I wanted to make peace with this woman, so I asked her her name and reminded her of mine and how I knew her. I told her I was so sorry about what had happened that night and I told her about Kepler and how much of a blessing he is and how early it was in our life with him. She told me she knew she had said something wrong but had no idea what it was. I hugged her and again apologized and told her I was so glad I had run into her after all this time. I think it was the perfect time, actually, because I was definitely ready to stop judging her and mend the broken thing between us. She had tears in her eyes and so did I. I love when we get the opportunity to find healing.
And this kid is just such a major blessing.