Thursday, November 21, 2013

When "Retarded" is Someone You Love

For my degree I am taking a Multicultural Counseling course.  I have some confessions to make.  I didn't think I needed this class.  I am a caring, accepting, empathetic, non-bigoted person.  Why do I need to take a class teaching me that I assume is just going to teach me that I am not those things by virtue of my race?  It's silly. People are people and I am being trained to counsel people.  Right?

Well, maybe not right. Counseling people from different backgrounds or heritages or cultures requires some understanding of the issues they face based on those backgrounds.  I was okay with that.  I thought, sure, I need some better understanding of what clients may be dealing with so that I can find out to what degree those things are issues to them and help them with that.  Just the awareness that I may not really understand will be helpful. Knowing that I need to educate myself on different cultures and traditions will make a difference. This will be good.  I am all set.

But then we studied microaggressions. Something clicked. Microaggressions I understand. I experience. I realized that I may very well be guilty of committing them myself.  Because the whole idea behind a microaggression is that the perpetrator is unaware that he or she is doing or saying anything offensive. That fact makes these more painful to deal with than outright racism or sexism or heterosexualism or ableism.  When faced with outright bigotry, anger is clearly justified, and I personally believe that it's ultimately easier to dismiss and rise above.  When faced with a kind stranger, acquaintance, colleague, friend, or family member who unconsciously hurts you it's somehow even more hurtful, because you don't expect it from them.  It's emotionally taxing to have the internal dialogue: "Did that just really happen?  Don't they get it? Should I say something? Will that just make it worse?" When you find yourself having that dialogue with yourself over and over, it's easy to become jaded and defensive.

I'm going to explain what I mean with my experiences.  I think it is easy to see how this applies to other people.

I've written about my oldest daughter before.  She's now 19, living in the basement apartment of our home, and attending a continuing ed program offered through the local school district.  She is mentally retarded.  Her IQ is low.  Her functional IQ, though still in that disabled range, is higher.  She has no syndrome, no birth defect, no disease.  She is just retarded. This fact is not a secret.  Strangers don't know unless I tell them because in their eyes she looks "normal" (whatever that means).

Here is another confession:  as a teen, I was guilty of using the word "retarded" to describe someone, or more often something, as inadequate on some level. I frequently laughed at the antics of a good friend who had an entire routine about the "special bus." It's embarrassing. All I can say is that I was young, insecure, and just didn't stop to think.

Now I think, because now that word has a different meaning to me personally. It describes someone I love. So when a stranger (who doesn't know my daughter) or especially when someone I care for (who does know her) says in my presence "that's retarded" instead of maybe "that's ridiculous," I am hurt.  Because whether they think they are saying this or not what I hear is, "Sadie is ridiculous." Yes, I know they "don't mean it that way" and are more than likely just not thinking.  But that doesn't stop it from hurting. This isn't about being PC.  It's about simple kindness and decency and respect. It's about being caring and thoughtful. Is that too much to ask of my fellow humans? If so, I'm saddened by what that says about us.

"You are being oversensitive." Another microaggression in itself, this statement is demeaning.  It implies that my experiences and my feelings are trivial. That someone's insensitivity or ignorance is my problem, rather than theirs. I don't buy it.

Ash Beckam has become a favorite subject for my youtube stalking.  She has amazing perspective on being understanding of others' paths and still speaking out for what is right. Her talk about combating the pejorative use of the word "gay" has, along with this Multicultural Counseling class of mine, inspired me to stop being silent about the pejorative use of the word "retarded."

So here is my plea: EXPAND YOUR VOCABULARY!  Learn words that tell what you want to say EVEN BETTER than words that are potentially hurtful to other people.  You will not miss those words, and in the end I am pretty sure you will be thankful to be done with them. Be aware of other things you may say to people that might be taken as insulting or demeaning.  Even expressing "colorblindness" gives the impression that race is something bad to be ignored. (That's a lesson I needed to learn!) Being aware is the best place to start. Those around you with struggles different from yours will be thankful to call you their true friend.

Watch "Ash Beckam Talks About the Word 'Gay'" here.  It's a good one. There's also a Tedx Talk she does about closets.  Check it out while you're there.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


This trend has been a long time coming.  I will admit to being fully taken by it at first.  I still have to fight the impulse to give in to it. I don't always win.

Sexy. That's the goal now. Have you noticed? Almost anything else about a woman can be accepted as long as it's wrapped up in sexiness. "Be a sexy mom." "Be a sexy grandmother." "Be a sexy CEO.""Be a sexy teacher."  There's probably not any longer a stigma to being a lunch lady as long as you look sexy doing it. (No offense to the fabulous lunch ladies I know ... but you remember the stereotypes I am sure.) Then there are the grass-roots esteem building campaigns that blow my mind. "Don't worry about what society or the media tell you about your weight or clothing style.  Be and wear whatever makes you feel sexy." Equally mind-blowing are the religious campaigns. "Modest is hottest." Because clearly, the only way to sell the virtue of modesty to young girls (and even women) is by declaring it to be sexier than being more scantily clad. Irony defined.

Now, don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that sexiness is bad. I am ABSOLUTELY not saying that sexuality is bad. It's good, and it's an essential part of who we are as humans. I am not posting to give commentary on sex or relationships or even modesty. This is a separate issue. We've deluded ourselves into thinking that by embracing sexiness we are empowering ourselves. The reality is that what we are actually doing is teaching our daughters, our sons, ourselves, that the most important thing we can be in this life is sexy.

I feel like I need to state that again.

We are teaching our daughters, our sons, our friends, our spouses, our colleagues, and ourselves that THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE CAN BE IS SEXY.

I can't be the only person who finds this degrading.

I'm vain, and I always want to look good and frequently mentally beat myself up for falling short of my ridiculous personal expectations of myself. It's a problem. And the problem is compounded ten fold when I start believing this lie that my goal in life should be to look, act, dress, feel ... sexy. Because then I forget the other, much more important characteristics that I want to develop. Intelligence. Accomplishment. Confidence. Femininity. Strength. Honesty. Diligence. Tolerance. Compassion. Kindness. Generosity.

40 is the new 20. Strong is the new skinny. Sexy is the new what? What are we yearning for? What are we afraid of? Is it just that it's relatively simple to accomplish sexiness? Smokey eyes, bedhead hair and a push-up bra and we're set? I don't need to worry about all the other areas of my life that I fall short in because at least I look hot? I'm not mocking that thinking ... I totally get it. But if I think about it too long or hard, it saddens me. Having teenaged daughters has opened my eyes to the value of women, and all the many ways that I personally sell myself short or am too hard on myself.  Watching them worry about their worth and beauty, when I can see SO plainly how valuable and beautiful they are, has become a painful mirror for my own insecurities.

Embracing sexiness will not empower us the way that embracing our bodies and souls and hearts and minds will. I don't have a grand plan for helping society to collectively do this. I don't even have a great plan for helping myself and my daughters to really do this. All I can do is be aware, and make those around me aware, remind us of worth that is not hinged on something as superficial and fleeting as sexiness, and challenge us to reach for more.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

220, 221, whatever it takes.

My dear, sweet husband made a fabulous effort this morning to be supportive, encouraging, and caring.  And I'm going to thank him by mocking him.  Yes, I'm pretty sure I'm going to hell.  But this was funny.  At least to me.  Seamstress nerds, read on.  All others are free to hop to another post or blog.  Larry, if you ever read this, which I highly doubt: Sorry, Babe.  You knew who I was when you married me.  And if you didn't, well, we've had nearly 2 decades to get acquainted.  


I am sewing a formal for #1.  (#1's name is Sadie.  She's 18 now, on Facebook.  Much has changed both on line and in my home since I started blogging and using numbers for my kids.)  Any way ... Sadie picked out a beautiful gown with a fully lined, pleated, overlapping bodice on top of a lined shirred midriff, paneled full-length skirt, and a fully lined bolero jacket.  We decided to overlay the bodice and midriff with a sparkly organza which matches the deep purple satin of the dress and jacket.  This was mostly done so that I could add a sheer, gathery layer a couple of inches above the "neckline" (which more closely resembles a bra-line) for modesty purposes.  No one step is insanely difficult, but overall, it's a big project.

Here's how the conversation went:

Mina:  "What time is it Babe?" (I really need a new battery in my sewing room clock.)
Larry:  "10:30"
M:  "Oh man.  Time zooms when I'm sewing.  I've been in here 2 hours.  It just seems like I should have more than this done."
L:  "Well, pretty soon it will all come together really fast, right?"
              pause while I'm pondering that statement
M:  "Umm ... I'm not sure what that means."
 L:  "Well, once you get everything cut out and the all the little parts sewn, it will come together quickly."
             slight pause while I'm trying to picture 
                 sewing the way he's describing 
                  ... and being unsuccessful
M:  (giving up and trying not to laugh) "It sure seems like that would be the case, doesn't it?"

He was trying to be nice, and I didn't want scold him with a lecture on the process of dress making.  And in a very small way, he's a little bit right.  1) I hate cutting and marking.  Of course, one does that all at once, before actual sewing begins.  2) The bodice is sewn first and will generally take longer since it requires fussier techniques.  3) Sure, once the skirt is put together, it's just one seam attaching it to the bodice, et voil√†, it looks like a dress.  Of course, then there is hand-stitching the bodice lining to the skirt, zipper installation (blech!) and final fitting, measuring the hem, and hemming (by hand in the case of a gown).  And, for me anyway, the thought of zippering and hand-hemming does not feel like a quick wrap up.  Not to mention that in this case, I get rewarded for finishing the dress by getting to start on the jacket.  WooHoo!

But now I am curious.  I am assuming that there is some sort of man-project out there that seems all tedious and awful ... until all the parts are cut and put together, at which point assembly seems like a fun, easy breeze.  I could get in to something like that.  Just call me Mrs. Dad.  With my luck, though, I'd likely be caught "doing it wrong."