It Finally Happened: The R Word

I’ve been dreading the day someone uses the R word around me. Butterflies in my stomach, lump in my throat kind of dread. I thought I had a good idea of how I could respond calmly, stern yet polite. I was completely shocked by who ended up saying it to me and the ability to respond was nowhere to be found.

I was involved in an unnecessary customer-caused crisis at work. A coworker and I were discussing the customer’s needs with a Sales rep, someone I hadn’t met until that moment but will be working with often.

Instead of saying ridiculous, absurd, poorly planned, shit-show, or even cluster-f*ck, he called the situation we were in “retarded.” My physical reaction caught me off guard. My hands turned to fists, my shoulders tensed, and I felt like I’d been slapped in the face and punched in the stomach. I looked at my coworker and saw a look of shock on her face.

Shortly after, the Sales rep and I were standing in the office making forced small talk while we waited for someone. I told myself I could casually bring it up in conversation…

“Oh, you live in New Jersey? I used to live there! By the way, using the R word is disgustingly offensive.”

The more I strategized, the madder I became and the less I wanted to look at him, speak to him, or help him. Clearly not acceptable behavior while at work. I put on my big-kid gloves and swallowed the emotional vomit until the customer’s problem was handled and I could have a minute alone. After a couple hours, I was finally able to retreat to the privacy of the company’s lactation room and let the pent up emotions run wild.

I was mad because, not only did this guy offend me within the first three minutes of our conversation, but he continued to be rude and pushy for the remainder of his visit. It annoyed me that someone so unworthy of my energy had affected me to that degree. (I found out the next day that other coworkers who helped resolve the customer’s problem were also irritated by the guy’s behavior and offended when they learned what he said.)

I was embarrassed because I felt like a hypocrite. I’m guilty of using the of the R word in my pre-Hannah life. Instead of saying drunk, stupid, or lame, I shamefully used “retarded.” I even caught myself saying it a few times after Hannah was born. I always knew it wasn’t a polite word to use; however, it somehow seemed acceptable in the privacy on my own world. If I’ve never been perfectly politically correct how can I expect the same from others?

I was worried because we’re almost 9 months into this journey and I wasn’t ready to hear that word. I wasn’t ready to defend Hannah. I didn’t want to hold back tears while desperately trying to lecture someone on which slang words are appropriate. It was instant defeat. I feared I’m not the advocate that Hannah deserves.

That night I told Pete the whole story and let myself get worked up again. We talked about how it’s a word that means so much to some but absolutely nothing to others, and that we should prepare ourselves to continue hearing it used unnecessarily. I can only hope that next time it happens I’m better prepared to spread some serious awareness.

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