Monday, February 23, 2009
Monday Morning Confessional: I used to make fun of a kid with handicaps
Over the weekend, my mom and I got to talking about the bungalow colony we used to go to. A bungalow colony, in case you've never heard of one, is a cluster of cottages, along with a clubhouse and a swimming pool, on a big plot of land. There used to be a ton of them in the Catskill Mountain Region of New York, and my family rented a cottage at one for the first 14 summers of my life. It's kind of like the setting of Dirty Dancing, but without anything dirty or much dancing (other than disco in the late 70s).
Anyway, my mother mentioned this kid, Adam, who'd occasionally come to visit his grandma at the bungalow colony. He had mental retardation. And suddenly, I had tears running down my face. I hadn't thought about Adam since I was little, but I realized, with horror, that I and some other kids used to call him retarded when our parents were out of earshot. "Retard! Retard!" we'd chant. Adam would whine "I am not a retard" and run to his grandma, who'd give us the evil eye.
Now that I have a child with mental retardation (who, unlike Adam, cannot even talk to defend himself), it pains me to think of how Adam felt when we teased him. It gets to me whenever kids say stuff about Max, even though Max doesn't notice. It's an issue that plagues many of us; Barbara at One Day a Time just did a thought-provoking post about this.
I've been haunted by Adam's face these last few days.
Adam is the only kid I knew, growing up, who had disabilities. It's weird, but when I've tried to remember how I used to react to kids with handicaps before I had Max—kids I may have seen out in the mall or elsewhere in public—nothing comes to mind. Nothing. Perhaps I've blocked out the memories because it's still hard to accept, on some level, that I now have a child with handicaps.
After Max was born, though, I developed an eagle eye for spotting children with special needs. I'd notice them everywhere, and wonder whether Max would turn out like them. I'd also notice the parents and assess how much sadness and weariness I could see in their faces. I don't do that anymore, but back then, I was always looking for signs of things to come.
What memories do you have of kids with disabilities and how you responded to them?
Photo by K. Guerrette