Because of this girl

5 Mar


Just stop it.

Stop being “retarded”.

Stop calling him a “retard”.

Stop using insults like “libtard” and “fucktard”.

Just stop it.

Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Being Retarded” and how I felt about people using that phrase.  Since then, the misuse of the word has become a bit of a soapbox moment for me.


Because of this girl.

photo by Elisha Clarke

photo by Elisha Clarke

This girl who was born “different”,  who despite all her issues wakes up every day and finds a reason to smile.  This girl who loves unconditionally, who finds joy in the small things, who appreciates the tiniest of gestures.

This girl is who you refer to you when you use the word “retard”.

Maura 2007

Maura 2007

This child who has worked so hard her whole life to learn how to walk, to talk, to master skills, who is still learning basic life skills, who trusts us to make sure her needs are met and who will never be fully independent despite her independent spirit  – she’s what you’re referring to when you say you’re “being retarded”.

Maura 2011

Maura 2011

And this girl – this sweet child who greets people with big smiles – is the “fucktard” you refer to when you think you’re being hilariously insulting to some “deserving” person who you’ve decided is so stupid, they must be fucking retarded.



But when I call people out on it, on their word usage, what do I get?

“Stop being so sensitive.”

Am I being sensitive?  Maybe.  Have I earned the right to be sensitive with every blood draw, ER visit, and IEP?  With every odd look from strangers when Maura’s behaving strangely? With all the worry and stress and juggling I do?

Oh yeah, I’ve earned the right to be sensitive.  Not just for Maura, but for her siblings who love and care about her, who have come to her defense, who have felt the glares of people staring, and had peers ask about their “weird” sister.  See, when you insult Maura, you don’t just offend her, you offend everyone who loves her. And that is a lot of people.  And that goes for every person with special needs out there.

So just stop using it.

But still, people argue with me –

“It’s just a word!”

Is it?


In our world – no.  It’s not “just” a word.  As a writer, I know words have power.  Words can make you think, words can heal, and words can definitely hurt.  Words can leave scars that others don’t see, which is why some words and phrases are considered socially unacceptable these days.

And really, if it’s just a word – why do you need it?  Why do you hold onto this particular word with all its ugliness, and deem it okay to fling out there?  What makes this word so cherished and irreplaceable that it must stay in your vocabulary?

There is no answer to that, because there is no good reason to keep it.

So just stop using it.

“But! But! Freedom of SPEECH!”

Hush.  No one is marching upon the Capitol screaming for law changes.  What we are asking is that you stop and think for a moment.

Think of the hurt these words cause.

Think of who you are hurting.

Think of the people you are referring to when you call someone a “retard”.

What I’m asking is for you to have a little more compassion for a section of society that is already struggling to be seen as worthy.  To treat those who face more challenges than you with respect.

Compassion and respect.  Those are good things.

I’m asking for you to do a good thing.

All because of a few words.

And all because of this girl here.

Maura on her First Communion




You can take the pledge to stop using the R-word at




23 Responses to “Because of this girl”

  1. decipheringmorgan March 5, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    Yes. Just YES. Thank you, Phoebe, for this excellent follow up.

  2. Tammie March 5, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    Phoebe this is a great post. I also want to say I owe you and your family an apology. For years I too thought it was just a word and I am embarrassed to say I have uttered those words “stop being so sensitive”. I didn’t understand how hurtful that was until my son came to me to tell me he is gay. All of the times I uttered “how gay”, came back and smacked me in the face. I was ashamed of the way I have spoken at times, I have used the word faggot to describe someone and it makes my skin crawl now because my sweet little boy is what some say a faggot. That word just angers me because he is not a faggot, he is not ‘so gay’ he is an incredible human being that I would lay my life down for. I now understand how offensive words can be. I find myself now speaking up when I hear the word ‘retard’ or ‘faggot’ or ‘ever gay’. I was at a football game recently and the guy next to me yelled at the ref “What are you retarded?” I turned to him and said how offended I was that he used this word. He asked if I had a ‘mental challenged child” I said no but many people do and someone needs to stand up for them. He apologized and said he would be more mindful next time. Score one for cause! They are just words but words can hurt. Bravo to you for advocating for your daughter!

  3. Amanda March 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    I had a teacher who once told me that “Your freedom ends where the other guy’s nose begins.” That word is definitely in the “punch in the nose” category.

    • Andrew March 5, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

      “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
      Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

      One of my favourite quotes.

  4. JAMB March 5, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    AWESOME! thank you for saying the words that I too have so often thought!

  5. Surprise Mama March 5, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    This is a beautiful post and you have a beautiful daughter. I hope that people start to understand that it really is more than just a word.

  6. michellegilstrap March 5, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    Beautiful and yes words do hurt, anyone can hurt someone. I am disabled and use a crutch and once had someone call me a gimp many times, over the course of several weeks while we were working together. Finally I said to this person did she not know that was a derogatory word to someone who is disabled and her response was that I was too sensitive. She was rude and crude and social maladjusted. I wanted to punch her in the face, but then I would be putting myself on her level. I just had to let it go, but it isn’t gone, because I still remember it.

  7. gingeralicia88 March 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    Well said! I feel the same about the use of this word and also the use of some other words that are often used to swear with; ‘gay’ for example. Especially here in Holland though were some people use illnesses as swear words. ‘Cancer patient’ is actually a swear word in Dutch… It’s very strange and not very nice really.

  8. nanis March 5, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    I totally agree with you. It is not just a word – it is a diagnosis, and not one to be laughed about. I have been on this soap box myself many a time, and will continue to do so.

    Thank you for reminding me.

  9. misebandia March 6, 2014 at 4:11 am #

    Oh this is so powerful. Thank you. For your Maura and my Fionnuala and all the other amazing people out there, thank you x

  10. J. Johnson March 6, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Just found your blog, and I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to read you writing what I wish I could say or express.

  11. painspeaks March 6, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Daily Advocate By Painspeaks.

  12. dogfordavid March 6, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    Thank-you ((hugs)) You have put into words something I have wanted to and tried to express for so long, but have struggled to get it to come out right. Bless you and your beautiful daughter. ❤

  13. Precious sons March 7, 2014 at 6:47 am #

    Think you! I have been looking for a good article on the pejorative use of the r word. I came across and shared it with friends.

    Thank you for chipping away, one word at a time, to make this world a better place for us all.

    From a mum of two of the worlds most precious little boys, one of whom has a rare disorder.


  14. Paul March 7, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    Bravo. I just read your piece (reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald). Beautifully, magnificently said. Bravo!!

  15. 90maz March 7, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    Reblogged this on speciallyteaching.

  16. David Ingerson March 8, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    So eloquently put, as the parent of a child with special needs it has to be said, To me its so much harder as the people it insults have little recourse. I have pointed out to a relative to who said it in our house that that word is not said here, they simply replied “oh, I dont mean her” that was the last time they visited, or were welcome to. Its a word which hides so many issues that will affect so many for the rest of our lives.

  17. teachingbattleground March 8, 2014 at 4:04 am #

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  18. johnhandley March 8, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    I’ll try and probably fail to not be patronising. From what I read you have a beautiful daughter whose abilities more than compensate for her disabilites. (yep failin here, sory).

    Anyway here’s just one thing for you, and you can do what you like with it. You mentioned Maura would never ride a two wheeler. Obviously I don’t know the details, but given the joy kids get from riding bikes, I thought I would share this way of teaching kids to ride. (It’s also used to teach adults to ride as well). It is very successful, safe, and fun. You progress at your own pace, and literally teach yourself.

    There are other similar resources online IMO this is the clearest.

    • phoebz4 March 8, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      When I originally wrote that bit – how she would probably never ride a two-wheeler – I honestly thought that. However, last year, a person from Down Syndrome Ireland came to Maura’s (Dublin) school to talk about how to teach a child with special needs how to ride a two-wheeler. Eye-opening!

      So thanks for the link, because now it’s something we would like to attempt with her. If it works, hooray! If it doesn’t, at least we know we gave it a chance 🙂

      • johnhandley March 8, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

        The main thing is that the seat is low enough for the child to have both feet flat on the ground. Taking off the pedals means that they can “kick” along without obstruction. Even if Maura doesn’t get as far as pedalling, she is still gaining balance training, which is important for kids.

        The original 2 wheel bike the “dandy-horse” was also a pedal-less machine. The main thing to avoid is “training wheels” as these interfere with the natural turning physics of a bike.

        As with any child, the aim is to build confidence by experience.

        Since you are now considering trying this I’ll post a couple more links for you to have a look at, but I still think the Melbourne Cylist is the best.

        Another option I suppose, would be a trike, and there are some nice ones available, or even a recumbent trike; If you’ve got squillions of spare cash lying around like most people do. ;-0

        why not to use training wheels

        another view of the same process

        I hope it works out for you. All the best, John


  1. End the R word now…….Because of this girl | Musings and chatterings... - March 6, 2014

    […] Because of this girl. […]

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