Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Advocacy Never Rests

Once you put on your advocacy hat, it never comes off. Ever. It's stapled on, even when the last thing on your mind is education and you let your guard down.

At my pedicure this afternoon, (the 2nd I've had in my life) my pedicurist and I made small chit chat. As expected, the topic was about pregnancy and babies. She had given a pedi to a woman earlier today who was 2 weeks past her due date. I took it as a good sign. She asked if I had ever seen the tv show "I Didn't Know I was Pregnant." She wondered how it is possible that the women didn't know that they were pregnant. "I mean, what are they, retarded?"

I took a deep breath and righted my shoulders. I touched my Trillium pendant and Sophie's beautiful face flashed in my mind. My advocacy hat doesn't come off, not even for pedicures.

I explained how I have a daughter with special needs and she had just used a very cruel word. She apologized and said she knew better. She has a granddaughter with a developmental disability ("officially not diagnosed with anything, she's just slow") who received EI 4 times per week, who didn't walk or make sounds by age 2, who is now in the 3rd grade but is more like a kindergartner. They say it isn't autism and she's doing better, probably because she had so much EI. Maybe she is outgrowing it, she explained.

My mind racing, I had to ask how, as a grandmother to a child with developmental disabilities could she still use that word? How does she feel when others say it around her? She said she doesn't mean it like the "N" word. She means it like... [super long pause that I left hanging in the air like passed gas] Like what, I thought, knowing she probably meant someone just like Sophie. I let her find her own words. Just, you know, stupid. I explained that it is similar to the "N" word in that no matter how it may change over time, you can't take away the history and you never know who you're going to hurt when you use it. For many people, it doesn't just mean stupid. She apologized again and said she really didn't wish to offend me.

Then she went on to blast people from Madison, WI (where she just moved from) for being offended by "anything." I moved here from Madison after living there for years and I loved it there, I told her. She stumbled around saying how neat it was that as a college town you can have so many lefties and righties. Really? Madison?

My toes are a beautiful shade of pink. I bought snickerdoodles on the way home. I'm thinking she'll think twice before dropping the "R" bomb again, or maybe not.

Oh, and I was wearing one of my Buddy Walk shirts today. Sophie's up from her nap and I need her sweet hugs.


Karyn said...

Sorry you had to go through this today, but I so know what you mean about having to advocate. Beautifully written and so true. I even started having a rule in my groups that I run that they cannot use the r-word. This way I only have one discussion about it at the beginning instead of having to say it over and over again who knows when. By the way, the Madison comment was a bit strange - I know because I grew up near Madison and there are a lot of politically incorrect people around there too.

amy flege said...

way to go.... i bet she doesnt say it again!!!!

Michelle said...

Wow - I'm so impressed you said something. I'm very proud of you! (In a good way, even if that sounds weird.) I think too often it's just easier to be horrified and say nothing. I've been there.

Anonymous said...

How did this woman ever crawl out of the hole that she was digging for herself...from bad to worse! I am sorry that you had that experience. I hope you did not tip her!

a note to Helena...you just sit tight kid...my money is on May 14and that is only a week away!

love, the prairie

JRS said...

I know, right?! I know I sounded stern in the post, and maybe I was when it actually happened, or maybe it just came out more when I was writing. I don't know. Each situation is different when this happens. Some people are just clueless as to the meaning of the word, like the young new mom in my water aerobics class. With her I was gentle and extra kind. With this asshat (pardon me) I was still polite, but firm. Afterall, my goal was to get her to think and stop her use of the word, not be in a battle. So, I hope my approach paid off. I really did remain calm. I am proud that I didn't excuse the behavior. When she apologized, I told her I appreciated it, resisting all urges from my polite midwestern background to say "that's ok" cuz it wasn't ok. When people use the word, and they actually DO mean a person with developmental disabilities, I have much less compassion for how my words will impact them. Still I'm trying to advocate and educate, which often means caging up Mama bear, just a little bit.