Friday, October 8, 2010

The Underdogs

I've been thinking a lot about Privileged vs. Challenged in the past few days... I can admit that as a middle class, white woman, who is not the ugliest chick on the block that certain things came easier to me.  In fact, if you ask my hubby (White, middle class male) he might even say, I've been more privileged than him.  He is, of course talking about the very important and heavy topics such as: Can I easily get into a nightclub? and might I get out of more traffic tickets?...Although, I can categorically say that I have NOT gotten out of any tickets in my lifetime, as my trip to traffic court this morning proves. On nightclubs...well, yes...I've had my fair share of velvet ropes lifted and have been escorted past the long line collecting on the street in front.  (I no longer attempt this, however, because a) I have no interest, and b) I'm afraid that I might live out the club scene from the movie "Knocked Up", where the older sister gets asked to take a place in line (because she looks too old).  I digress... I have not, personally, been dealt such a tough hand in life.

My baby boy, Elijah, has been dealt a different hand...a hand that will be more challenging.  It will take him longer to develop his gross motor skills, to learn and memorize, to read and write, because of the way his extra chromosome interferes with his development.   But, you know what?  He has a strong will!  He wants to sit up and roll over and pull himself to a stand- at just 5 months of age- his face, eyes and laughs communicate how much he loves working on these tasks.  By contrast, most typically developing babies don't even have to think about what it will take to sit up straight (though it will take them a little time to do this on their own.)  Everyone loves an underdog, though...right? Think: Rocky Balboa (Too-old, small time boxer who makes it big in the Heavyweight ring), Braveheart (A Scottish commoner whose brother, father and childhood sweetheart have been killed by the English. He unites the Scottish against the English, who outnumber them in bodies and supplies.), Hoosiers (the small town basketball team that becomes a championship contender) and Seabiscuit (the undersized, depression-era racehorse who was victorious time and again.)  Everyone loves an underdog.  But, the underdog is often the one that, (before greatness is achieved) is belittled and ridiculed.  It's sad, but true.  When I think about our society and how easily we have joked about the mentally and physically challenged, my heart breaks.  Why IS that?  You would think that even people who feel small and insecure wouldn't bother picking on someone with Special Needs, but they do. 

Humor surrounding Special Needs has become commonplace. I was teaching ballet the other night and some of the girls started joking about one of them being "Special". Now, mind you, this girl is special, but not with special needs.  She is typical and talented and pretty and so sweet.  But the joke started: "You're "Special".! You're "Special Ed."  I put a stop to it, while knowing that they really did not mean it to be degrading to anyone who has special needs (some of their own family members have special needs.)  But, again, it is commonplace.  No one thinks about what it really means.  Only it means something different to me know.  I said, "Hey...sorry, guys, I can't allow the special needs jokes in my class, considering that someday my son Elijah will be a part of the special ed program."  They immediately 'oohed and ahhed' and "took it back" because they weren't really trying to put anyone with challenges down.  However, this is the problem.  Somewhere along the way, we all forgot that these jokes are at someone's expense.  Someone who really IS in the special ed class.  Someone who really has to work 2, 3 or 4 times as hard as everyone else to do the simple things. How did we let it get that way?...

So, as uncomfortable as it will be at times,  I will say (or at least try to say with grace and tact) what should be said: The jokes are at the cost of real people's feelings. Saying, "I'm so retarded" and hitting your hand to your chest is ABOUT someone. Just because you're trying to jokingly degrade yourself doesn't take away the fact that this is how some people live life: delayed in learning and unable to control some of their body movements. I think they've got it hard enough- can't the schoolgirls and schoolboys (both young and old) give it a rest? 

Tonight, as I was writing this post, I clicked over to Facebook...because I'm addicted...(Hi, my name is Jennifer and I'm a Facebooker.) An old dance friend sent me a link that got me all weepy and on my soap want-to-support-as-many-causes-as-possible box.  Considering that I am a former professional dancer, and now dance teacher, this probably gets me in the heart more than some, but take a look:

This project is working on getting funding and while I know I'm probably going to have endless projects that I want to help get funding, I really think this one is especially touching. If you're moved to donate, great. (I have NO affiliation with this production, so this doesn't benefit me in any way...other than it will draw attention to all of the things (including dance) that people with Down syndrome participate in.)

Peace out.

I know...I'm not sure who I was being just felt like a "Peace out" moment. :)

If you're reading this blog around it's published date, then you are listening to the theme song from Rocky.  I thought it was fitting for today's post. 
That and it really, really makes me giggle. Hard.


Anonymous said...

LMAO!! The music was awesome! I loved this post . . especially when you took your dancers to task. I hate to say it, but I am fighting a losing battle at work . . the word "retarded" gets used all too frequently. I finally put my foot down and have forbidden the trainee and my PA's from saying it. However, my boss says it, so I can only raise an eyebrow when she does. It's frustrating, but she has promised to do better.

Anonymous said...

Uh, in case you haven't guessed, the last post re: the pa's was me, Marisa! :D

TheSublimeLife said...

Young kids are especially cruel. It's too bad they don't develop tact or the ability to empathize sooner! i have SUCH a hard time watching my son (who is autistic) play with other kids. He is very social and is SO eager to have friends (for which I am forever grateful for), but he just doesn't have social skills. He THINKS he's playing with kids. When really they are calling him names, screaming at him to go away, or even hitting and kicking at him. I have to always try to stop it and explain as best you can to a kid that my son has no clue what's going on. My nephew one day started kicking my son (I was across the house so he got in a few good kicks), screaming, "go away". What did K do? Giggled and kept trying to hug him to death because he loved him and wanted to be friends. often I have mixed feelings. I am relieved he isn't aware that these kids don't like him, but therein lies the problem. i wish he had enough awareness to rethink what he is doing, or learn the things we try to teach him about boundaries and social situations. Isn't it amazing how being a special needs parent REALLy opens your eyes?!

Laura said...

Anderson Cooper just commented on Vince Vaugn's "That is so gay" trailor said in a derisive tone. Some people laugh at overly "PC" renaming of those with challenges, and some people know the truth, words have much more power than sticks and stones.

Amanda Broadfoot said...

Having a child with special needs has certainly opened my eyes to how thoughtless we are as a society towards those with challenges. I know that I've used language in the past, without thinking, that would make my blood boil if I were to hear it come out of someone else's mouth now.

But you're right: Our special children are an inspiration to everyone who gets to know them. Seeing Billy physically struggle to put together a brand new sentence of his own -- and then beam with pride in himself when he accomplishes it -- reminds me how strong, how amazing, how persistent he is. I certainly appreciate small successes so much more because of him.

And now, when my neurotypical daughter does something completely "normal" (for lack of a better word), it's like a little miracle every time!

Chris P-M said...

It's true that so many folks do not even realize how their comments can be hurtful, and having a SN kiddo has really opened my eyes to this as well! I do remember making those types of comments when I was younger, and now that I'm in the position of raising a child with special needs they just cut to the core.

Thanks for sharing the rocky hubby and I both enjoyed it :)


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