Yesterday, my students were reading a short story about a teenage girl working a summer job where she has to supervise a mentally disabled man as part of her duties. The girl thinks that it is, like, a total bummer, dude, and like, no one will want to, like, hang around her if she has this RETARD shadowing her all the time.
About half of my students cracked up at the use of the word “retard.” Many of them snorting and snickering and repeating the word to themselves and each other for several minutes after they read it. I’m used to my teenagers being immature and inappropriate about anything that is even remotely “gay,” and I’ve also grown shockingly accustomed to the horrifying slurs the students sling on a daily basis in that regard. However, I felt my heart break into a million pieces when I heard the cruel, heartless laughter of these kids taking joy in the word “retard.”
I wanted to tell these teenagers that so many disabled or mentally challenged people would trade ANYTHING for their normally functioning brains and average or above average intelligence, but they were WASTING this gift by being small-minded bigots. So many of my perfectly capable “normal” students are getting all Fs in their classes, and have been since middle school. And it isn’t because they have any kind of disability like the man in the story we are reading. It’s because they are wasting the gift of normalcy. When they were placed as purple, squalling infants into their mothers’ arms at birth, those mothers thanked God for the healthy, perfect little children they’d received. And look what those kids are doing with that gift. Performing “far below basic” and laughing about retards.
But I didn’t lecture them. In my twelve years of experience, I have given many such lectures, and felt my blood pressure rise and my adrenaline flooding my muscles as I observed their self-satisfied smirks. Nothing is more entertaining to some kids than seeing their teachers get all red-faced and angry over something. Some of them are even sweet enough to surreptitiously videotape it and post it on YouTube.
I understand that much of this is just immaturity. I’m not going to let it drag my soul down to the bowels of Hades, like it often threatens to do. I realize, also, that my being a mother and imagining this cruelty directed at my child is the real root of my anger and dismay.
When I was pregnant with V, every morning the severe developmentally disabled class would walk and wheel by my classroom during first period. It was a loud group, due to the tapping of canes, whir of powered wheelchairs, and unintentional sounds this type of child makes. Before I had my amnio, I would wonder, “Is this the future for my child? If so, how will the other children treat him/her?” The class I had back then was more respectful, or perhaps more mature. No one ever made any comments or really even acknowledged the distraction.
On my way to work today, I thought of our short story and how it affects me so differently than them. It truly underscores how we bring ourselves to our reading and that every text affects every person in a slightly, or profoundly, different way based on who that person is.
Then my thoughts drifted to Olga, the girl with Down Syndrome who I blogged about in “A Worthy Cause Needs our Help.” And though I am not a Christian, I do believe in God, and I prayed right there in my car while waiting to turn left at a light. “Please, God, give Olga a family. Please don’t let us only get her halfway there.” I thought of Steven Spielberg and Kirk Cameron, not normally thought of together for sure, and how they have adopted numerous children with special needs because they have the means to care for them. I believe Mia Farrow has done the same. What amazing people these are. And add to that list all of the unknown, non-celebrity families who have taken disabled children into their homes. I thought of Olga’s birth mother, and what made her abandon that baby girl to what was almost certain to be a horrific life of neglect. Did she have a choice, or did some person force her? Did she believe that her child was useless and damaged, less than human and not worthwhile? Did she love that baby or feel nothing toward it? And now, does she think about her and wonder about her, or pretend that she is dead or never existed?
And the next thing I knew, my make-up for the day was completely ruined by my tears of grief over this little girl’s life so far. I thought of what I as “Mommy” mean to my daughter and how Olga doesn’t have that. But I still hold out hope that the rest of her life can be wonderful. I know this is a departure from the usual theme of my blog, but if you can find the time to pray up a family for Olga, I think that my blog will have come to far more good than I ever dreamed it could have when I was just wise-cracking about bitches I hate.
Although, don’t worry, I won’t stop doing that.
Please go to babynumber10.blogspot.com to donate money to Olga’s adoption fund. Apparently, there is no shortage of people willing to adopt children with special needs. There is only a shortage of money (paraphrased from Reece’s Rainbow).
Hopefully, the lesson intended by the author in the short story we are reading in class will enlighten and change my students. One can certainly hope.