I stood up for my son today and it felt good.

As a blogger, sometimes I feel like I talk the talk rather than walk the walk. It’s one thing to tell the world from the safety and comfort of my couch about respect for people with disabilities and it’s another thing entirely to tell it to someone’s face. I’ve written before about my difficulty in finding the right words when people use inappropriate language but I’m bigger and uglier now. Today I decided to step up.

I took Wade to the park to feed the ducks, today. I’ve been so proud of him lately. His communication and comprehension has been coming along in leaps and bounds since I’ve been home more and we have started using more sign language. We got out of the car and wandered over to the lake with our bread in hand. I was telling him about the ducks and he his signing “duck” all the way along the path as well as waving to every passer-by. After watching the ducks peck around his feet and listening to the sweet sounds of him trying to say “quack quack!”, we headed over to the play equipment. It’s such a great park because the designers have included many features for kids with disabilities. There are sensory areas and sign posts with the names of objects including the sign language and Braille. The swing area has a bucket swing for babies but it also has a full body chair swing with a harness for kids who need support of their whole body to enjoy it. I particularly like the slides as there is no ladder to climb. The slides go down a steep hill and the kids climb the hill to get to top.

Brimming over with pride I spent ages watching Wade scramble and scrabble up the hill to the top of the slide then get himself up to the top and sit down. He couldn’t quite work out how to shuffle his little bum off the edge so I helped him and then he went down the slide all by himself. He got to the bottom and signed “more” so I turned him around and told him to climb up. Up again he went then wandered off when he got to the top. He walked over to a guy to say hi and look at his shoes then stood next to a bush and experimented with stepping into the shade, then in to the light, then into the shade again. He let the bush brush past his hands to see what it felt like then wandered back to the top of the slide again. I was lost in the moment as I watched him looking out at all the people in the park and wondering what he was thinking about….

….then from behind me I hear “That’s the retarded swing for people like you!!”

I spun around and saw a group of 20 year olds on and around the swing set. One girl had sat in the full body swing seat and they were all laughing and joking.
“Get a photo of her on the retarded swing!” so they got their phones out and took a video.

My stomach sank. Instead of feeling giddy with joy at all the new and wonderful things my amazing boy has been working his guts out to achieve, now my mind was full of whether I was wasting my time because people will never see them as achievements anyway. The baby seat swing became available and I went over wondering if I should say anything, how would I say it? and what did I want to say? I mulled it over in my mind for ages, ignoring Wade as he giggled and delighted in swinging backwards and forward. I thought about how annoyed I was while Wade pointed at the full body swing and signed that he wanted to go on that one. Once I realised that I was missing the joy from time spent with Wade because of a shitty comment I decided I had to say something.

I picked Wade up and perched him on my hip. I walked up to the girl who was with 3 others.

“Hi, I wondered if I could talk to you about something I overheard you say earlier?”

“Ummm…ok?”

“I heard you talk about your friend being on the ‘retarded’ swing because she is like ‘them'”

“It was a joke but anyway…”

“I’m going to be polite and calm about it but I wanted to let you know what it means when you use language like that. This is my son, Wade, and he has Down syndrome. When you say things like that, it says to me that no matter what I do, my son will never be accepted.”

I didn’t intend to… or want to cry…but I did. My face was hot and I got flustered. I wanted to tell her all about how much people with disabilities are capable of and have a discussion about whether what I had to say meant anything to her. I wanted to say lots of things but I was too emotional. In any case, the look on her face said it all. She was mortified. I’m sure she was wishing the ground would open up and swallow her whole. Her friend went to comfort me but I stopped her and said that was all I had to say and then we walked off.

I looked over at the group as we left the park and saw them huddled together, no doubt discussing what had just happened. I don’t know whether saying something will make a difference to them or not. It certainly made a difference to me. I now know that I can speak up for Wade and teach him how to speak up for himself too.

I’m starting to realise that it is more important just to find my voice than to find the “right” words.

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48 thoughts on “I stood up for my son today and it felt good.

  1. Well done. Yes, it’s usually something that people say without thinking – but you’ve just encouraged them to think first, and I bet at least a few of them will be changed by that conversation. I can just imagine how tough that would have been but I’m really proud of you xx

    • Hello how are you? Just thought I would comment on what you heard those young 20 yr olds saying! I was there at that same park I was with children who have disabilities aswell and I saw ur little boy on the slide and ask u what his name was and you told me Wade! Anyhow I was sooo tempted to go to those people and say something too them aswell it was just plan out rude I thought no respect what soo eva! We were there doing the same thing as you feeding the ducks and playing on the playground aswell! Please don’t let un educated people get you down it’s really not worth it!

      • Oh wow!! I remember that. Small world. Thank you for your comment. I’m usually pretty good about thoughtless people but for some reason the timing of how proud he was making me combined with how much that attitude hurts really got to me.

  2. Well done and thanks for sharing – I think that feeling of being overcome with emotion and feeling too angry and hurt to express myself clearly has stopped me taking action in these kinds of situations in the past. It’s heartening to hear your story, and I’m sure I’ll be thinking of you if I find myself in that kind of situation again πŸ™‚

  3. Well done! It isn’t easy to stand up against ignorance when the ignorant comments cut so deeply. Over the years, as a sister of a brother with cerebral palsy, I’ve heard so many people tell me their comments were just “in jest” or they didn’t mean anything by them. What they fail to understand is that those kind of comments can hurt so much, regardless of the intention. Good on you for taking a stance, as difficult as it would have been. It sounds like you gave them a well needed lesson in having respect and compassion for people who may be facing a few added challenges along life’s unpredictable path. Please know that there are other people out there who would have have stood up for your son. I’d like to think if I overheard them I would be one of them xx

  4. Wade is perfect! So glad you stuck up for him. I always seem to cry too and it makes me mad with myself. Haha! I can’t quite put a finger on it except to say maybe it happens because of how passionate I am about my son, and how fiercely I love him… Anyway, good job, mama!

  5. Just linked here from facebook…Your post gives me courage and what you said was perfect. I get tears just thinking about having to defend my daughter and worry if I will ever be able to find the right, peaceful words to share. I’m sure I will always have tears. My daughter is only 5 months old now and as we venture out more with the nicer weather, we are coming face to face with people who do not know about her DS. It’s been easy, because we tend to be around family and friends who know her dx, but I worry about the first time someone will question me or point it out and how I will react. God Bless you and thank you for sharing. Beautiful post. Wade is adorable!!

    • It’s hard. I don’t usually bring up the dx unless its relevant to something but when I do, I own it because its not something to be ashamed about.

  6. Very well done! I have a baby girl with DS that will be 4 next month, and I know what all of us struggle with as parents of kiddos with special needs! I know it did you and your son a world of good. If you hadn’t said anything (I know even for myself) that hateful words and ignorance like this from people would only have continued to hurt your heart and eat at you! Maybe at least for this group of young people, your speaking up put a face and a soul in front of them to make them aware of how what they were doing, and probably did a lot could hurt. You continue to feel your moments of joy and happiness with your son, Momma!!! ❀

  7. Good for you! I have never had to say anything to anyone & my son is 8. I have gotten the “looks” like they know he is different or “the sympathy look” & i often want to say something but its so hard to collect your emotions & find the right words. Thank you for the encoragement.

    • I’ve been really lucky until this too. I’m not going to jump all over everyone for every less than perfect comment but this was beyond the pale!!!

  8. Leticia, you are so right… you don’t need perfect words, just a strong brave voice. And you’ve got that! You made them think about what they said, and that is awesome. Great job mama!

  9. So glad that you spoke up… and that you cried. Most people don’t get that while tears look like weakness to most people watching, they are really safety nets that save others from the rage that we’re working so hard to save them from experiencing at our hands. Tears are a sign of self-control and strength in times of temptation, so never be ashamed of them. You are an awesome mom!!!

  10. I think what you did was great. My oldest son who is almost 25 was born with bilateral cleft lip & palate. I took him everywhere with me when he was a baby, pre & post surgeries and got a lot of stares and comments….but I wanted people to see that not every baby is born perfect. My kids have grown up with friends with Downs and they are champions for acceptance πŸ™‚ Cherish the milestones,maybe not everyone will see them that way but you can share & help others to see them as well.

  11. Excellent. I think I was 17 the last time I used that word. More than 20 years ago I said it without thinking about what it meant. I too said it in front of the mother of a child with disabilities. All she did was look at me and I was mortified. Best thing that could have happened-I never used that word again and it ensured that I give thought to the words I use. I’m sure your words made a difference to those young people.

    • Yeah, I’ve been on the receiving end of it too from a horrible thing I said at high school. It sears your conscience doesn’t it? It was a HUGE lesson for me….

  12. This was beautiful and so inspiring. I have an older brother with down syndrome who I idolize. Since we were little he has been my best friend and brother. I sometimes find myself facing the same struggle if I over hear people talking about other with disabilities in such a way. I feel stuck, frozen in time, in the moment, paralyzed to say anything to stick up for him and the community. This has inspired me to not feel so paralyzed by their words but instead to allow them to drive me to react in a positive manner and feel more comfortable saying something. Thank you for sharing.

  13. I want to think it’s still their high school mentality when traveling in a pack, not that it’s an excuse in high school. It’s ignorance and lack of life experience. All I can say is your son is a lucky little boy and you are a lucky Mom to have each other.

  14. Way to go, I had someone I didn’t know do that for my son, they was sitting behind us laughing at my son because he was ( he has autism) and is always laughing and happy. Boy he cussed them out and he even knew one told them they had better shut up or he was going to kick their butt, he waited he waited till we finished to walk us out afraid they would do something to us. Well they kept on and my mom and I had our say. Bunch of smart Alec kids. They shut up then. But I was solo proud turned out his brothers caustic too. I was solo tickled someone stood up for him even know they didn’t know us. We thanked him over and over again when he walked us to our car. God bless people who stands up for disabled kids and adults!

  15. people are cruel and will never understand the joys of our special children. it is truly their loss. they are ignorant and shallow and bullies and dont even know it. have to feel bad for them. they will never love like we do. they will never be loved back like we are.

  16. Way to go, Leticia. It’s confronting to stand up for our kids but so important. I hope you’re proud of yourself. One day Wade will be proud of you for advocating for him and being such a great role model.

  17. Thank you for sharing. My son also has DS and we have experienced similar trials. I cried the 1st time it happened & told the mother that DS isn’t contagious. It’s so frustrating to have to deal with this over & over again. Bless you and your son. I’m sure he is amazing. Best wishes.

  18. I think your response was perfect. I think actually seeing how those comments made you feel made a much bigger impact than any carefully composed argument would have. I think some people think that we have learned to or been taught by the p.c. police to be offended by this word. The first time I heard it after learning Owen had DS, it cut like a knife. No had to tell me that I need to feel offended now when I hear it, it came pretty naturally. I really hope that in that moment they grasped that.

    • Thanks. I think being visibly upset had more of an impact too but it wasn’t part of the plan! Unfortunately it’s part of human nature that people don’t fully understand something until it becomes relevant to them. I know I didn’t fully get it until Wade was born either.

  19. Hi Mom! Walking and talking and writing the words, communication and education happens in so many ways, not all times rehearsed. Sometimes the words follow the heart, reaction causes action. All of what you did was a learning experience. Away from peer pressure, in the privacy of the individual, that place none can escape, your words and actions will pierce and impact the heart and mind of this young person. Life is not always fair, we are all working on it. Good will come of this. I think of GiGi’s Playhouse as a place where we provide a comfort zone, and as such a place of learning. And sometimes we all need a way to get out of the corner. There is too, that time and place where “uncomfortable” is the appropriate environment. Best to Wade and keep up the GREAT WORK!!! Love, Richard; The Grandparent Connection, GiGi’s Playhouse NYC

    • Great thoughts….that there is a time for comfort and a time for discomfort! It’s definitely the times of discomfort that teach me the most lessons. Have heard great things about Gigi’s Playhouse. If I ever get to NYC I’ll have to check it out!

  20. Thank you for sharing! You did real good momma. I’m not sure how I would have responded. Although I have not been a similar situation before, I’m sure I would have been in the same emotional state and lost for words. Your courage is inspirational – what a difference you made that day for wade and for every child with DS.
    Wade is doing so well and you should be proud of your efforts. He is so blessed to have you as his mum

  21. Great Blog!!!! my son is 25, a week ago I needed some heavy items to be transported from my car and as he sat there the warehouse guy said hold on I will get some “RETARDS” to help out….I quickly showed him my son in the car as he yelled out mom they said RETARD…..The guy was mortified…Hopefully I gave him a lesson in Humanity

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