The "R" Word

I pretend I didn't hear. That I don't notice her blushing and squirming uncomfortably in her seat. That I don't notice the look they exchange with each other. The way everyone at the table glances at me and then quickly away. I stare at my plate chasing a carrot slice with my fork. Trying to shake the feeling of ice water being poured down my back. I know only I can break the awkwardness, so I swallow hard and try to get the crushing weight off my chest. I make a quip about what kind of restaurant has a Pepsi machine instead of Coke. The group seems relieved, and goes back to chatting about reality TV and how to get a toddler to sleep at night. 

I know my friend didn't say it maliciously. It slips out of many of our mouths accidentally, out of habit long formed from our elementary school days. I can even admit that I used it more often than I'm proud of. We all know it's politically incorrect. But that doesn't delete it from our vocabularies. 

The thing about "political correctness" is that it can drive a person crazy. I used to complain about it to Danny sometimes. "Why do people have to get so offended over everything?" "There are a few wackos but most people don't intend to be mean." And I still understand that that is mostly true. No one that I know, and certainly no one I associate with often, would use that word to be cruel or to jest or even use it intentionally. But I also understand now, why being politically correct matters. Its not political, its simply being kind and aware of the pain others struggle with. I'm not offended when someone slips, or when a few high school kids at the mall yell it at each other: I'm stunned.

Last August, Danny and I sat in a hospital room on the fourth floor of Primary Children's. We got a room to ourselves because we had twins. We were almost checked out but we were waiting on the neurologist to come and tell us about the twins brain scans. We were chatting about going to a burger place that was popular on the way home. I had always meant to take Danny there. It was so casual, we never imagined that in ten minutes time our young lives would change forever. 

I don't remember everything the neurologist said. I can't even remember her face or her name. The scan. I just remember the scan of Sophie's brain and that I could even recognize that it didn't look right. I remember that Danny felt very far away standing on the opposite side of the room by Lincoln's crib. I kept thinking, "Shouldn't she have told us to sit down?". Then she said it. "We predict that Sophie will be moderately to severely retarded." One short sob shot through the room and it took me a moment to realize that the sound came from me.

And I realized, I didn't even know what retarded meant. For all the times I had said it, when I was a child or heard others name call, I never stopped to think about what the word actually meant. And in this moment I didn't know what it meant for Sophie.

The neurologist went on to explain that for Sophie it meant she might walk by the time she was five or she may never walk at all. It meant she might learn to communicate through speech or maybe she would never communicate at all.  It meant that the little girl we had imagined in dance lessons and soccer games was no longer a reality. And in that moment it felt as if the neurologist just handed us a death sentence.

And for a moment, we mourned the daughter that we had always imagined. The daughter we had planned for. 

Almost 45 minutes passed before I was physically capable of calling my parents. My dad answered and asked if we were headed home. I remained silent, not wanting to say it, to make it true. Then through broken sobs, I used the "R" word for the first time, in its true form. In its cruelest form. Only to be repeated a handful of more times as we broke the news to our family and dearest friends.

So when I'm running errands and the "R" word is shouted carelessly across an isle, I'm caught off guard and feel as if I've missed a step. Suddenly a care free shopping trip is gripped by a dark hand and the most painful and tender parts of my heart are thrown out for the world to gawk at. It's just a word. To most people at least.

But to our family, it means so much more. It is our sweet, little girl. Our little girl that I watch seven times a week struggle with therapists to do what other babes do without thinking. I listen to her little cries of frustration and shed tears over the hard path that is laid ahead of her. The little girl that smiles and laughs and brings joy to every person she meets. The little girl that we didn't plan on, but the girl we thank Heavenly  Father for every single day for giving us.


Brooke said...

Michelle this is one of the most amazing things I have ever read! She is beautiful and is already teaching people around her some amazing things.

Jordyn said...

You and your entire little family are amazing. Little Soph is so so blessed to be part of this family. And you are 100% right re: politically correctness really just meaning having consideration and sensitivity for others. Love love love you

annie said...

I am so grateful for how talented you are with words and your willingness to share the things that you do! I have a habit of crying when I read your blog, it's so beautifully written and expresses such tender things! I love those babies of yours and I've never even met them! Thank you for sharing this post, Michelle!


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