Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Face Behind Your Jokes

This is a tough one for me to write.  There is so much pain, it is a physical thing for me.  My heart literally hurts.  When I hear or see someone use any version of the "R" word.  Retarded.  Retard.  Even the more politically correct terms like mentally challenged or cognitively impaired are being used in jokes.  I know you are trying to be funny when you say these things.  I know you think these terms are funny to hear, and you laugh.  I just want to put a face to your jokes.
Lea is 17 and has Down syndrome, as most of you know.  I have seen several awesome YouTube videos of people in their own campaigns against the "R" word.  You know the ones, where there is a good song playing, and the person holds up a series of index cards with messages on them.  They often say about their loved ones, "she is not retarded."  I know where they are coming from.  They have the same knife-in-the-heart feeling that I have when I hear the jokes.

But the truth is, Lea IS retarded.  Mental retardation just means it takes Lea longer to learn things.  And it means there are some things she probably will never learn.  There are things we have worked on for years, like math.  One day she can do quite well.  She can add and subtract 2 digit numbers.  The next day, she can't add 2 + 2.  This is not funny, this is not something to make fun of.  She does the very best she can and her brain just can't keep certain things in it.  It does NOT mean Lea is stupid.  I know what you are thinking.  "Of course Lea isn't stupid!  I never said she is stupid, or anyone with a disability!"  But when you tell the jokes, when you forward them along in an email, when you post it on Facebook or when you refer to someone or something that IS stupid as retarded, you are calling Lea stupid.  By using the word retarded in a negative fashion, you bring Lea down.

I stand up for Lea all the time.  I have even scolded, if you will, a Kroger employee who was putting chips on a shelf because he called down the aisle to the other employee that the chips looked so retarded the way he was doing it.  I spoke to the owner of a Hallmark store when her employee yelled across the store about something that looked so retarded.  I have asked friends (hopefully without scolding!) to please not use that term, at least around our family.  I know it would be asking a lot for people to start doing the same.  To tell someone who jokingly calls someone a retard that it hurts.  "I love someone who is mentally challenged.  That term is hurtful."  But I wonder, will anyone reading this at least change their own views of how funny this word is?  Will anyone at the very least not laugh at the jokes?  Will anyone choose to never use these terms in a negative way?  Will anyone not joke about "the short bus?"  Will anyone look at Lea's beautiful, laughing face above and remember her when the term is used?  Will anyone at all share this blog with others?  I hope so, with all of my heart!

Lea may be mentally challenged.  But I tell you one thing: she would never purposely hurt your feelings by making fun of you!  That is one of the amazing things about Lea, and all of the people I have met over the years with challenges.  They are so full of love!  Lea has been made fun of by other kids.  She may get sad for about a minute, but then she is full of forgiveness.  "I still like her, Mommy.  It's ok."  SHE has to comfort ME in these situations!  I wish I could blow it off like she does.  But I can't, so I do what I can as her Mommy to try to make people understand.


  1. Very good blog Lori. Open-hearted people know that we are ALL challenged, just in different ways. Please adopt Lea's forgiving spirit and not let these painful moments bring you down. Many people have not been raised with christian lessons in acceptance and love for all and their ignorance is disturbing but unavoidable. They are challenged "slow learners" that are still on their journey. A strong, positive and loving correction might be the just the life lesson they were needing, and you put there to give it. Love you!

  2. Thank you for writing that!! I will be sharing it :-)

  3. Finally shared this...thanks for writing! Your courage WILL make a difference to many people! Change takes time...and perseverance. I'll keep after it, and I know you will, too!