"Ummmm, sort of like, ummmmm ..." he was struggling to tell us a story but was having a deuce of a time of it. Words just weren't coming to him. This is unusual because Joseph, for a 12 year old kid, has an amazing vocabulary, a quick wit, and a way with a story. He recounted a story of burning his mouth on a hot drink saying that he'd 'forgot the laws of physics' and drank it two quickly. This is not a kid that finds communicating tough.
Yet here he was struggling to tell a story. We couldn't help, or prompt or assist in any way because we didn't know where he was going with the story, primarily because he couldn't get it started. All we were able to figure out was that it happened at school to another kid, that he didn't do it and that he wanted to tell us about it.
Finally, he described the kid as someone who needed a lot of help in school, who was different than the other kids, who had some problems learning. "You mean 'disabled'," I said. "Yeah," he said, relieved to have that out of the way. Then he went on with his story.
I didn't say anything to him but I was really proud of him at that moment. When we first met Joseph, the word 'retard' tripped easily out of his mouth. "That's just way retarded," would be a way of reacting to something. But Joseph soon learned that this wasn't a word to be said around us. We explained, to his disbelief at first, that it was similar to bad racist words.
Even though we know that 'the word' is everywhere, even on the lips of those who should know better, he respected our wishes. It's been a very long time since the subject of 'that word' has even come up and frankly, I didn't notice the change. I don't hang with people who use the word so it's absence wasn't particularly noteworthy.
Until Friday. A Joseph day. And he's trying to tell a story about one kid teasing another kid. The kid being teased was "ummm, like, ummmm ..." Well, "ummm, like, ummmm ..." takes a lot longer to say, I prefer it to 'that word'. It was cool that he worked so hard to avoid a word that we've taught him is hurtful.
Trouble is he didn't have a word that he knew could be used. Difference needs to be explained to kids with words that aren't charged with prejudice. Joseph recognizes difference and his struggle to find words shows that he is coming to be sensitive to the idea of respect. Part of the point of integration, I would think, is that kids learn how to talk to each other ... but also to learn how to talk about each other.
It was a nice moment. Though we've never had kids, we felt like we'd done a wee bit of parenting if parenting is passing a value on old to young.
How cool is that?