Monday, September 08, 2008

Home Run

When Rose handed me the box, I was thrilled. The cards, used to confront those who use hateful words like 'retard', were finally in my hand. I pulled one out and it was better than I expected. It felt like accomplishment. I was tremendously proud of my agency for producing them, incredibly proud to be part of a movement, incredibly ready to start using them.

On Saturday morning, we were headed over to our local mall to shop and arrange a pharmacy transfer (don't ask, I may tell) and such the like. I listened like I had ears twice normal size. Though the place was busy, though there were people everywhere. I never heard the word once. I was both pleased and disappointed at the same time. I realized that these cards had created in me a mission. A need to make a difference. I was now ready for what I used to fear.

The next day we went to church and then stopped at a big grocery store down near the lake. We needed a couple specialty items that we had not been able to locate in our local grocery. The cards were tucked in both my bag and my wallet. I was armed and ready. Joe left me to go upstairs to the washroom and I went over to the magazine rack. There were two boys there, 13ish, looking at music zines. One of them said it. The exact quote? Said while pointing to a picture in a magazine, "These guys are so retarded."

I reached back into my bag, grabbed a card and handed it to the boy. Just as I did so, his mother came round the corner and saw me as I rolled back over to continue looking at a cooking magazine. I tried to read but all I could do was pretend to read as I watched out of the corner of my eye. She took the card from the kid, he didn't even have a chance to look at it. She read it. Grew red in the face and over she headed.

"What do you mean by this?" she asked, furious.

"The card explains it," I said, "He used the word 'retard,' it's a hurtful word, he needs to think about what he is saying and who is hearing him."

"How dare you ..." she started.

It was like I've been waiting for this confrontation all my life, "How dare I? How dare I?" My voice was loud, she was looking a bit frightened of my anger, "You raise a child that uses hateful bigotted words, you parent a kid that freely uses language that denigrates others, and you are upset with me?"

"He didn't ..."

"Don't tell me he didn't mean anything. There's only one thing that word means. It means those he considers stupid, considers less than him, considers worthless. It means only one thing. He knows what it means and so do you. Don't give me that. It's a word that hurts, it's a word that's meant to hurt." My heart was beating hard in my chest. I thought I was going to drop over.

"I've raised him to be considerate ..."

"Well, you've failed. And no wonder, if you are confronting ME because of the language HE used, then he's got a poor role model. I'd be ashamed if I had a child that used racist, sexist, homophobic or disphobic language."

"You're a stupid son of a bitch, that's what you are ..."

"Then I've much in common with your son."

She grabbed him by the arm, he'd been standing transfixed at the confrontation between his mother and I. Joe got back and I was shaking. He wanted to know what was wrong, I just wanted to shop and get out of there.

We found our 'specialty item' for a 'specialty recipe' ... don't ask, I may tell ... and we were on the elevator on the way down. They were just ahead of us, mother walking like she was still angry. Women can walk mad way more emphatically than men can. Her boy, the kid who used the word, kept glancing back at me. He said something to her, broke away from her, and ran back.

I braced myself. He came at me with speed, I thought he might hit me.

And he did.

He said.



rickismom said...

Well....I'm glad he "hit the ball". I think that this is the only way to make a difference:one-on-one. The Mom was really weird.....kid's probably embarred to heck with her....

Anonymous said...

Our youth are not lost, he will remember and it has changed him. His mom unfortunately is closed to learning. I bet him saying sorry shocked the stuffing out of her! Way to go kid. MDN

Glee said...

The hard confrontational work you did there Dave was very well rewarded! I am beaming with a big hug for that boy!

Mum probably did learn something too.

Go Dave - love it.


FAB said...

I have goosebumps!

That kid is now forever changed by your exchange, he will never again use that word I'm sure.

Now we just have how many millions more to go? Imagine the difference it would make if everyone who reads this blog stands up the same way you did...

Anonymous said...

horah!! I'm dancing that he apologized, seems like mum could learn much from her son.

FridaWrites said...

Ooh, wow, sounds like he learned the lesson better than she did. That's great.

You're right, women can walk more emphatically angry!

Anonymous said...

And, can you imagine the talk on the playground this morning? All about Mom and the guy with the card?

"Hey don't use that word...this guy with wheels might show up, and then your mom might embarrass the #$@ out of you"

Way to go, Dave!

But I keep thinking...there might be another reason why Mom flipped out -- she may have just been reacting to the interaction with her son -- I know I've jumped to conclusions before when perfectly wonderful strangers have interacted with either of my kids. Yes, I know that doesn't justify any of her words, just maybe her over-reaction to the situation.

Dave Hingsburger said...

janet c ... I wonder that too. I realized as soon as she came around the corner that I probably looked like I was passing him my address or phone number .... or something equally ikky. So she probably started with anger and had trouble gearing down. I really get why she was upset at first. But she just kept escalating after that ... but initially, I think you are right.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a valuable lesson that young man got and sounds like he took on board. Sadly it looks as though the media seems to be getting worse. The following comes from the obnoxious British "comedian" Russell Brand yesterday at the MTV awards:

"Some people, I think they're called racists, say America is not ready for a black president," he said.

"But I know America to be a forward-thinking country because otherwise why would you have let that retarded cowboy fella be president for eight years.

"We were very impressed. We thought it was nice of you to let him have a go, because, in England, he wouldn't be trusted with a pair of scissors."

Sadly, this is reported without comment on the BBC websites coverage of the MTV event.

All 4 My Gals said...

Despite his mother...HE got it! I love it!!! I wish ALL kids had that strong convictions!

Cynthia said...

Fun to read how you were listening hard so you could use your new cards. I'm not disappointed that it took a little while.

I'm so glad the boy got it!
I understand mom wanting to defend her son, but ....
I hope she gets it too.

Jessica said...

Awesome! High five Dave! And you know what else I find exciting about that whole exchange besides the fact that you have forever altered that boy's mindset? What if he "pays it forward"? What if he saves the card and uses it on someone else to educate them? Who knows how far that card and your exchange may end up traveling? Bravo!

rhav said...

Hi Dave,

Its not only hard to raise kids that have a disability, its hard to raise kids period. They don't just learn from us (parents, that is) and the world isn't especially kind to parents, moms especially, just like it isn't kind to people with differences, disability being only one of them. After all just a generation prior Mom's were blamed for autism, now its just everything but...I feel certain Mom got the message, as well the child; both hopefully life long. I think/hope the mom just didn't have the time to process and accept the lesson with the same grace of the child.

FridaWrites said...

Just do be careful. People with tempers who are already unthinking can get out of hand. Of course you live in Canada and not the States, where anything goes. I'm just thinking of some disability hostile experiences I've had recently.

Shan said...

Oh man I feel queasy just thinking about it, having a shouting match with an ignorant stranger in a shop.

You are lucky you could even hold on to your sentence structure in a situation like that.

Unknown said...

Dave, all I can say is....

I LOVE YOU!!!!!!

Caroline said...

This is a fabulous post - I am glad I found your blog - I think you may have just turned that young lad round - hopefully he will always remember that day

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Dave!

Re, the Mom's reaction, my guess is:

1. As you point out, your behavior could have initially appeared to be something more "ikky"

2. Then, as you suggest, she had a lot of trouble "gearing down"

3. Then she probably felt a bit attacked herself, in regard to her parenting skills, and I'm sure that's also a very sensitive area for any parent (given that many parents get criticized for a lot of things, often unfairly), so that was probably something that pushed an entirely separate set of buttons in her.

The fact that it came within minutes after the first set of buttons had been pushed could have created the "escalation" effect that you saw. So the escalation does make sense to me.

Of course it's hard to know for sure without being there, and without even knowing this woman. But my hope is that maybe later on, after she had a chance to calm down and think more coherently (without the cascade effect of multiple pushed buttons to throw her off), maybe she would have gotten your point. And been proud of her kid for "getting" what she had been teaching him about being considerate after all--even despite herself.

Susan said...

You go, Dave!!! Woohoo!

I'm wondering... Was Joe sorry he missed it? Or kind of glad.. :)

Liz Miller said...

You totally rock.

Skylex said...

This is very inspiring, I sent this post to my 12 and 14 yr old sons, hopefully they'll get something from it, thanks Dave

Anonymous said...

I just got my cards in the mail today. I too was impressed with the quality of the cards. I was thinking when I got them...I can't wait to use these!!! Now I am a little scared but not so scared that I won't hand one out when I hear that horrible word. I already knew that whenever the time came to give one out that I would be in for a confrontation. I am so pleased that you wrote about this today. After getting them in the mail your blog just made my day. I know that it took courage to do what you did and I also know that I too have that courage. The time has come. I will never again pretend that I didn't hear that word. I wish I never had.

Anonymous said...

well done that lad.

Unknown said...

ok, im a bad reader

wheredja git the cards?


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Way to go....Good for you.

Can you tell us where you can get those cards... I think it would be a great idea to have a couple of them hanging around.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! I don't think I have ever felt so proud of someone in my entire life!

wordsong_girl said...

I've never posted but so enjoy your blog--I now try to read it every morning. What a writer you are. Thanks for the inspiration, the support, the laughs and the tears.

My daughter has Down syndrome and I had the pleasure of attending a your session at a CDSS conference in Waterloo.

Just want to let you know that after reading your original post about the "Words Hit Like a Fist.." cards, I jumped on having them ordered for our upcoming Lower Mainland Down Syndrome Society Buddy Walk in sunny Surrey, BC. They're winging their way and we'll be passing them out for everyone to use! Every little bit of empowerment helps.

Thanks Dave.