The prompt for this week’s Blog Hop is “A Letter to My Younger Self.” As with all of the Blog Hop prompts in this hop, it refers to disability. This was a bit of a tough one for me, but here goes!
To five- and six-year-old me, so painfully shy and so lost in daydreams that a teacher wrote on her progress report “sits with her mouth open and so appears to be retarded”: You weren’t “retarded.” But you know that. Even your teacher knew that; she was just commenting on how you looked. Your own world of daydreams was just a whole lot more interesting than the world of the classroom. Don’t let that word hurt you; it was meaningless.
To fifth-grade me, who got so tired of being mocked when she opened her mouth in class that she just decided to never speak in class again and to pretend she wasn’t smart: Don’t do that. What you have to say is worthwhile. What anyone has to say is worthwhile.
To 14-year-old me, taunted by a bully who imitated her slightly odd gait with such exaggerated silliness as to imply that she was severely disabled: Turn around and call that bully out. I don’t care if she’s bigger than you, older than you, and far meaner than you. Call her out. Don’t slink away, let your shoulders slump, and break into tears the first chance you find solitude. Call her out. She might punch you, but who cares? She’s out of line, and she’s going to stay that way until someone puts a stop to it.
To 22-year-old me, working at an office job where she thought bullies would no longer exist—only to have a coworker who was supposedly a friend imitate her odd gait, start laughing, and say, “Why do you walk like that, anyway?” in front of other people: Call her out, too. She’s out of line. Good for you for simply telling her it was a minor birth defect and for no longer speaking with her except when work demanded it, but you should’ve called her out, too. She needed to know it was hurtful so she didn’t go on to hurt someone else later.
To 38-year-old me, holding a beautiful baby with Down syndrome: Teach your son all these lessons it took you 38 years to learn. Teach him not to let the word “retarded” hurt him—as much as you can. It’s always going to hurt, but teach him that only thoughtless people use that word, and you can’t give thoughtless people the power to hurt you.
Teach your son not to shut his mouth and shrink into the shadows for fear that he’ll be laughed at when he speaks. Teach him that what he has to say is worthwhile. It’s always worthwhile.
Teach your son to let people know when they’ve been hurtful. Some of them may not even realize they have been. And some may have been purposefully cruel. But teach your son not to shrink away, because doing so only makes it hurt more. And we can’t fight cruelty if we don’t let people know when they’ve been cruel.
And teach your son that there is beauty in things as they are created—that disability is in its own way beautiful. He needs to know that. Because it is.
Your older (and hopefully slightly wiser) self