I honestly thought we’d come to a point in time where people realized that sharing jokes and memes that use the word “retarded” is in extremely bad taste. But again, there is a joke circling on social media and via email that uses the word retarded in a way that is offensive and hurtful. I don’t know if it’s ignorance or lack of education but I don’t understand how people can press “share” or “forward” on something that furthers the stigma that families like mine spend so much of their lives trying to change. As hard as we try as parents to educate, there continues to be a stigma attached to people with cognitive impairments and when you use the word “retarded” as if it is synonymous with stupid or in any way other than that in which was intended, you propagate that stigma.
Retarded is having to sit through parent teacher interviews as the teacher tells you all the things that are too difficult for your child, even though she works on them every single night at home. Retarded is having to explain to your daughter why a friend didn’t invite her to her birthday party even though she really wanted to go. Retarded is being so proud of your daughter’s reading that you are ready to burst then seeing the pity in people eyes when you show them a video and they can’t figure out exactly what you’re proud of. Retarded is watching people stare at your child and make rude gestures or laugh and then turn away. You know what retarded isn’t? It’s not funny.
Being retarded is not a joke and sharing jokes that make light of it are hurtful and detrimental to families like mine who fight like hell for their children to have better lives. Not to mention the fact that sharing these sorts of “jokes” shows us that you think that our child is less. My daughter meets the medical definition of the word retarded. She is bright, beautiful, happy and determined, she deserves to be seen for what she is, not to be made to feel inferior by people who choose to use the word retarded as if it is funny or in a derogative fashion. You can say it’s a joke all you want, but you know what? It’s not a joke to me. It’s my life and worse yet, it’s my daughter’s life and she will fight and struggle every step of the way as she grows and tries to earn respect in the world. You set her back when you share those jokes.
The word retarded is so ingrained in our culture that people don’t even realize how much it hurts but I can assure you as I sit here typing this and wondering how my daughter is ever going to find a place in this world where she is safe from this kind of disrespect, that it is very, very hurtful. She is not stupid. Her brain simply works differently and it takes her more time to learn but she is strong, capable and persistent. She overcomes everything that is put in her path. She has so much to give to the world so let’s try to make this journey a little easier and stop using words that make her path more difficult.
My grandparents were pretty amazing and I was lucky to grow up with grandparents like them. For the first part of my life, while we lived in Alberta and then Ontario, they lived in Saskatchewan. Even though we lived far away from them, I have many happy memories of their visits to us and our summer visits to them and a few odd memories along the Yellowhead Highway in between. They’re all floating around in my head today and I’m honestly surprised by how many there are! Admittedly, some are pretty foggy because I was a child but some are so, so clear. Some of the clearest memories I have are of raising the flag in my Grandpa’s backyard in Regina, he used to let us raise it when we came to visit to signal to everyone that his grandchildren were there. Eventually, my Grandma and Grandpa moved back to Ontario and they lived about 5 minutes from us. We had big family holiday meals and Sunday dinners, they watched an endless number of sporting events and school concerts and eventually high school and university graduations and they took great pleasure in helping us when we needed them. After my parents returned to Alberta, Grandma and Grandpa’s place became a home to go to on weekends from university, it was very much a refuge where we could study for exams, get together with friends or just hang out. They picked us up from the train station, lent us their car and invited our friends into their home with open arms. More than once, they drove an hour to pick me up, bring me to their place and nurse me back to health when I was sick. Once, they drove my roommate and I home late at night because our train never came and I had a paper due in the morning and they often appeared in odd places to watch Ringette games. They’d happily drive a couple of hours to watch their grandchildren play a sport they loved or to go for lunch. It was a hard transition for us when our parents moved back to Alberta and Grandma and Grandpa stepped right in and made is so much easier.
As we grew and moved on from University we always knew that they’d be there when we needed love and support. They travelled across the country to both my wedding and my sisters and they went to Saskatoon to see my first house. They adored my children and celebrated them for exactly who they were.
Today, my Grandpa died. I will never forget the animal sounds, the visits to the Regina Leader Post, the Roughrider games or all those $20 bills that Grandpa used to slip me (often right before or after Grandma had slipped me one of her own). I will never forget the way Madi adored him and how he looked at her with such fascination, the way he used to touch Ali’s feet and hold his hand out for hers while he looked at her with pure joy or how he never forgot to ask Jason how his beloved Roughriders were doing and to ask about the most recent scores. Last time I saw him, he told me that I was beautiful and how proud he was of me, those are words I’ll always cherish. As we get older, we often see less of our Grandparents because we move away and have families of our own. But we never forget that childhood feeling of excitement knowing that they’re coming for Christmas or wondering what cool things you’ll do on your summer visit. We never forget raising their Canadian flag, getting lost trying to find them at work or having them chuckle when we once again land our butts in the penalty box. We never forget their kindness or all their guidance along the way and we try to pass the little seeds that they’ve planted on to our own children. Our grandparents are a big part of who we are. My Grandpa overcame a lot in his life to become the Grandpa and Great Grandpa that he was and I know that he left behind four granddaughters and five great grandchildren that are so very thankful that he did.
My grandpa used to walk Cindy, our family dog when we were growing up. He loved to walk her in the woods. She used to get so excited when she saw him coming. While he was walking, he’d plant tulips back in the woods for everyone to enjoy. I bet they’re still there now making people smile just like all the memories that he’s left us with. Now, Grandpa is with Grandma and I’m sure he found Cindy along the way and together they can plant more tulips – or maybe they’ll just sit back and watch all the tulips they’ve already planted grow. I’ll miss you Gramps, say, “Hi” to Grandma and Cindy for me and thanks for the amazing memories!