Sunday, February 28, 2010

Not Just Another Sarah Palin, Family Guy, R-Word Advocacy Rant!

I'm so tired of all the insults flying back-and-forth over the recent Sarah Palin-Family Guy episode -- Rahm Emanuel and Rush Limbaugh issues notwithstanding. Truth is, I think Family Guy is an incredibly rude and NOT funny show. They use ridicule and demeaning comments in place of humor... a put-down-the-other-guy mentality that I hate no matter who uses it.

No one is better than anyone else and every one is better at something than somebody else. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and we all have something of value to add. This is what makes the world go round. It's called acceptance!

For the record, I wasn't personally offended by the Family Guy episode. And Sarah Palin's reaction didn't offend me either. I guess if someone in tv-land poked fun at me directly -- using the fact that I have a child or 2 (or identical twins) with Down syndrome to get my attention -- and then the media specifically asked me what I thought (this is exactly what happened), I would have reacted too! I might have had the wherewithal to say that in the realm of insult-slinging on that show, I thought the writers uncharacteristically used just a little more restraint with regards to depicting people with Down syndrome than usual. I might have said that "Ellen -- the "Down Syndrome Girl" (some people first language would have been nice) -- was a strong and confident woman who stood up for herself. And I might have said I appreciated her date's parting line... "you're just like everybody else!" Isn't she just?! Two eyes, two ears, a mouth, a nose, a body, a brain, a job, a family, personal motivation and political views, etc....Yup, just like everybody else!

Or I might have also reacted like Sarah did. Yes, I believe the "My mom used to be the Governor of Alaska" line was a direct hit on Sarah Palin and it's no coincidence that "Ellen" had down syndrome and Trig has Down syndrome. After several years of being held up to attack for every thing she does pertaining to her son with Down syndrome, I guess she's entitled to speak up on her own and her infant son's behalf. What I heard in her words was, "Why? Why drag my son with Down syndrome into this? Go ahead and pick on me but leave Trig out of it. There will be enough challenges in his life without your contributions." This poor mother has been targeted at every turn by proponents and detractors alike. One group says she doesn't say it right or consistently enough. And another group says she's using her son to get votes (though she's not running for any public office at this time). I'd just hate to be in her very publicly criticized shoes! She can't win no matter what she does.

As I always try to look at the bright side of every situation, I think her actions do show the world that she's proud of and has accepted Trig just the way he is. She's also proven that life doesn't have to change so drastically after having a child with Down syndrome... a fear expressed by many new parents of a child with Down syndrome. I also think Trig will grow up knowing he is loved and was treated just like all of his siblings. And I think he'll have incredible opportunities because of who his mother is.

As the mother of 2 children with Down syndrome, I want to teach the world and my children these things and more. But, admittedly, like SP, I pick and choose the issues and the instances pertaining to Down syndrome awareness that I want to address and I let some slide. Heaven help me, I don't address them all! None of us do... or can! I think Rahm Emanuel was out of line with his use of the "R" word but I didn't call him out on it. And, I personally felt Rush Limbaugh's use of the "R" word was even more offensive than Rahm's. But I didn't write him either. I refuse to listen to Rush and should Rahm ever run for public office I certainly wouldn't vote for him. That, I guess, is the extent of my stand against these 2 thoughtless public figures. It's easy for me to say or do because on a day-to-day basis, Rahm's and Rush's opinion, wrath or reach carry no particular weight in my life.

As much as the "R" word or diagnosis-first language hurts my heart, sadly I have encountered a number of people -- with direct influence over me and my children -- who used the "R" word and worse and/or who failed to use people-first language but who I hesitated or failed to correct when they mispoke for fear of retaliation. I know firsthand that no matter how kindly you address it, sometimes the receiver's reaction is negative. As such -- and I hope you can all forgive me for being an imperfect human being who is occasionally too afraid of the potentially negative outcome to consistently confront the mispeaker -- I have not addressed the issue because the speaker has influence over decisions that are too important to me and my children to risk their defensive or passive-aggressive reactions. I pick my allies as carefully as I pick my fights. I plan my victories for their impact. And I overlook battles where the casualties are too great for me and my children to bear.

Honestly, the number of inappropriate and prejudiced comments towards people with intellectual disability and/or Down sydnrome is EXHAUSTING and it is, quite frankly, impossible for any one of us to address every single gaff. Besides, if I did, people would avoid me for being one of those mothers with a chip on her shoulder; someone who is just waiting to be insulted. Then they would miss out on the opportunity to witness first hand what happily living with Down syndrome really means... through direct exposure to my beautiful children and to me.

Yes, I have let it slide for a million good and bad reasons -- from too tired to fight, to not wanting to bring more attention to the particular speaker, to not offending someone who holds some significant power over me or my loved ones. Right or wrong, I correct when I choose to and not every single time. My bad. But each of us has our opinions, thresholds and reasons for when and why we choose to address and when or why we let it slide. I'm not excusing myself or SP so much as accepting that we are only human, we have our reasons and we are doing what we can and think is best to foster the cause -- whether we all agree or not.

I certainly wouldn't want the whole world critiquing me on how I raise my children with Down syndrome or my child without Down syndrome. I, for one, am absolutely living an imperfect life in my glass house over here! Yes, I have carried all 3 of my children like "loaves of bread" under my arms and worse! My then 3 1/2-year-old daughter held BOTH of my boys at the same time straight out of the hospital and may have done a better job at supporting their heads than I did the first time I held my babies with Down syndrome. And, I happen to think my boys look adorable in just a diaper and shirt. Maybe I wouldn't let my child be seen sans pants if I was a public figure or Sarah Palin... but I am neither. Or perhaps I'd do just what she's doing to show everybody that there is no difference between my child with Down syndrome and your child without. No difference between me and anybody else raising kids with or without Down syndrome. I can't say for sure!

But I do know plenty of mothers who have children with Down syndrome who do things differently than I do and that's just fine with me. Nutravene, no Nutravene. Fish Oils, no Fish Oils. Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapies, No Therapies. Mainstream, Integrated, Self-Contained Class, or Homeschooling. Vocal advocate or private parent. All personal choices. I would never criticize any of them for parenting their way. There are a million ways to successfully raise a child... with or without Down syndrome.

And finally, I've got to say that if Ms. Palin DIDN'T carry Trig around or include him in the parade-my-family-across-the-stage photo opportunities, I -- and, I think, many other parents of children with Down syndrome -- would be even more upset at the exclusion. Then the political machine and probably us mothers of children with Down syndrome would crucify her for THAT instead of THIS.

Agree or disagree with her political views or even her advocacy efforts if you want. Whether you or I like the method, words or consistency any one else uses to advocate on behalf of their loved one with Down syndrome is moot. Each of us speaks up when we choose and with our own voice and within the realm of our own experience. SP's not breaking any laws and she's not dangling Trig out of an open window. Kudos to her for speaking on his behalf and for proudly showing off her beautiful baby who happens to have been blessed with an extra 21st chromosome... her way! I do it my way EVERY SINGLE DAY of my life with my beautiful kids!

You know, I was recently reprimanded (I'll save the details for another post) for something I did that was apparently not quite the way someone else thought I should have done it! For the record, I reeeeallllly didn't like the criticism one bit! But after an internal rant of "who do they think they are?" and a few days of soul-searching, I know that my parenting style has facilitated my children's development and has broken down many stereotypes about Down syndrome for a lot of people... and I will continue to parent my children the way I choose.

You show off your kids your way and I'll show off mine! You advocate with your voice and I'll advocate with mine. Your message may hit home for some, while mine will hit home for others. Together we can change the world!

Because I see discrimination towards and prejudgements placed on my children every day, I have become a vocal advocate, actively seeking out opportunities to educate others with regards to Down syndrome. My goal is to voice my educated-about-Down-syndrome opinion without slinging insults over my neighbor's fence, and without using sarcasm, put-downs or any other hate-mongering tactics. I mean no criticism to anyone. I hope to sway no political opinions for or against Sarah Palin or any other politician. I just want to change the way the world sees and treats my children and all people with Down syndrome...

Not with harsh, inappropriate or judgemental words about another mother who walks in my shoes but with an open heart and with whatever intelligence I have at my disposal... And most of all with patience and perseverance directed at those who purposely or inadvertently insult anyone with Down syndrome.


  1. Just wondering why it's taken me so long to find your blog? :) I really liked this post. I have 6 kids and am definitely making mistakes along the way. We all do the best we can and hopefully we don't have side-line critics all along the way.

  2. "There are a million ways to successfully raise a child... with or without Down syndrome." - so true! I love this post (altho I do despise Sarah P. for so many things and think she trieth to haveth it both ways and uses her children (all of them) for political gain shamelessly). You are so right that each person picks their battles and there are/will be so many for us in particular. We need to be less judgemental - but of course parents have been critiquing each other- hate to say it but women in particular- and living in a shame based/comparing to neighbors world for centuries - and stick together to make the world a better place. You have the most open heart in blogland that I've found Maggie!

  3. Kudos for this wonderful posting! About time. Now, I'll let you in on a little secret -- there's no such thing as 'shoulds' and 'should nots.' That's just people trying to keep you in their comfort zone. Thoughtless, small-minded people. You are doing a great job under some very difficult circumstances.

  4. Wonderful post. I admit I'm rather out of the loop since I never heard anything about that Family Guy episode (I also hate that show) or SP's reaction.

    I don't follow SP very closely at all, so I don't know much of what the media says about her, but I can imagine that they reach for anything to make fun of her. It's just disgusting that they would make fun of her child's special needs. That's completely unacceptable.

    Thank you for sharing your point of view. I imagine I would have very similar feelings. We can't fight all the negativity out there or else it would spoil our lives. There's a time to speak up but there's lots of times to not even listen and go on enjoying our lives.

  5. Amen!!! you just so eloquently put into words everything that's been buzzing in my brain. I couldn't have done it. Thanks for writing this post!

  6. wonderful post! love your thoughts!

  7. Amazing post Maggie. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there (which I can definitely relate to) and for saying it with such honesty. I hope it reaches many people!! I just can't get enough of those boys and all their cuteness.