The Other “R” Word

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Today you might have seen this splashed across various social media outlets. I think it’s pretty safe to say that anyone who would call themselves my personal friend probably doesn’t use the “R” word, or if they have in my presence, they’ve been corrected. It happens, I move on. It’s an ugly, ugly word that needs to be eradicated from our collective vocabulary, just as the “N” word, and various other hateful epithets assigned to innocent people. If you’re not my friend, don’t know my kids, or don’t know anyone with a cognitive disability, I do hope you don’t use the word, because there are lots of other descriptive words that can be used in its place, and that’s really the point of the campaign.

But today I want to talk about the “other” R word. Redemption. Because ya know what? We ALL need it. And when it comes to the “R” word we who are in the world of disability DO need to give grace along with our corrections when that word is used. It’s great to stand up for what’s right, but let’s also let people dig themselves out of the ditch when they’ve just dug one for themselves.

Last year as my husband was in his first year of coaching high school baseball, before the season even began he gave the “R” Word speech to his entire team. He’s very fortunate to share coaching duties with a group of very honorable and intelligent men who do NOT disgrace themselves by telling off-color jokes, call people names, or use racial epitaphs of ANY kind. (It was great to have “that” issue out of the way). So he had the talk with the boys and the season began. Well not too far into the season a couple of the guys messed up. They used the “R” word in the dugout. And they were called on it instantly. Because the “R” word permeates our culture SO MUCH, these guys truly didn’t even realize they had said it and when the coaching staff came down on them they were immediately sorry. Very sorry. Ashamed. Embarrassed. They apologized. So you know what my husband did? He forgave them. He gave them some grace. They messed up, it happens.

And you know what? Those two boys just happen to turn out to be our favorite babysitters now! They are AWESOME with both of our kids! The other night we came home after an evening out and they ballplayer-babysitter-de jour had Hayden COMPLETELY engaged in a game and giggling so hard I thought Hayden was going to fall over laughing. That almost NEVER happens!! Do you know what JOY that brings to a mom of a kid who is usually marginalized, ignored and left in a corner, sometimes in our own home with other babysitters? I just about started crying with joy! (I should note that the other baseball-player-babysitter is no doubt equally engaging with H, it’s just I didn’t catch him in the act of entertaining him)

So ya, people make mistakes. People who live outside our disability-world bubble often have NO IDEA how hateful and hurtful the “R” word is to us, but if you give people second chances, sometimes it might go further than just telling them it’s wrong. Sometimes they get to know our kids for the individuals they are and they come to realize the “R” word doesn’t belong in the same zip code as our funny, creative, caring, and deep children. I hope they take that message to their friends and continue to spread the word to end the word.

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