Sunday, April 3, 2011

open mouth, insert foot

You know the really insensitive or thoughtless remarks that come out of people's mouths about any number of personal issues? You know, like stupid comments about an acquaintance's announcement that she's pregnant? Or the dumb things some people say when they hear someone close to you has died? Or the extremely inappropriate questions that sometimes get asked when you're thinking of adopting?

Well, I have made them all.

Seriously, I have.

I once stupidly referred to my sister's adopted children's birth parents as their "real parents." (I didn't mean it like that. Really, I didn't, and I feel terrible!)

I accidentally used the word "retard" in front of an acquaintance whose sister I later found out has Down's Syndrome. (In my defense, this happened like 15 years ago, but I still cringe at the memory.)

And one time, when an acquaintance told me she was pregnant, I asked if they had been trying. (I know. I KNOW! I have no idea why that question left my lips. There is no defense besides I am really, really stupid, especially in social situations.)

And frankly, these are not even the worst of my experiences, but I am too ashamed to share any others.

Despite these mortifying examples to the contrary, I am a relatively sensitive person. I try really hard not to hurt people's feelings and I feel like I am moderately successful at reading people and anticipating comments that might offend them. And most days, I can make it until bedtime without uttering any of them.

Still, I have made more than my fair share of social faux pas.

I have also been on the receiving end of more insensitive remarks than I can even remember, especially with regards to Danny and his autism.

Like people who insinuated that perhaps it wasn't autism, but just a discipline issue, and who then proceeded to list the many parenting errors I make regularly.
Or the people who tried to comfort me by saying, "It could be so much worse. You're lucky he doesn't have cancer/cystic fibrosis/more severe autism, etc."
Then, there were the people who said, "Yeah, I'm not surprised. I've known he had autism for years now."

People have said any number of crazy, upsetting things that have alternately hurt me deeply, embarrassed me, and angered me. How could people say such things to me? How could they be so insensitive?

Now that the wounds are not so raw, however, and now that I have had time to rationally think about them, I see these experiences in a different light. What if those people in my life who made less than supportive comments regarding Danny's autism, what if they were really trying to be helpful, but just didn't know how? What if they were acting the same way I have in so many regrettable instances in my life?

Haven't we all been the idiot making a thoughtless remark? Surely, I am not the only imbecile out there whose mouth is not always connected to her brain. Most people try so hard to be helpful, but let's face it, not many of us are completely gracious at hearing bad news. Most of us have no idea what we should say, right?

Sometimes we are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that we say nothing at all. Other times, we frantically try to fix the problem and we don't realize that we are either insulting someone or disregarding their need for validation. Still other times, nervousness takes over and we listen in horror as our mouths take over with no help at all from our brains.

Since April is Autism Awareness Month, these topics have been on the mind of many of my friends and acquaintances. I have read posts on Facebook and blogs and have talked with friends who angrily report comments that others have made about their child's autism. As I listen to these remarks, I am reminded of the numerous moronic things that have come out of my mouth.

And I realize that had I not had a kid with autism myself, I could have so, so easily been the person who said any of these remarks, most probably completely oblivious to the damage I may have caused.

Because I am human, and because I wouldn't have a clue. And maybe also because I would be nervous and when I'm nervous, oh, wow, the crap that comes out of my mouth!

This little epiphany of mine has made me realize that those comments people made? Well, maybe I should rethink them. Maybe, just maybe I was a touch sensitive at the time. Perhaps people were trying their best to make me feel better. Can I really blame them that they didn't succeed, since at the time the only thing that would have made me happy would have been a call from the doctor saying they made a mistake?

As I think about Autism Awareness Month, I think of all the things I'd like people to understand about this disorder. I think about how I want people to give Danny the benefit of the doubt. I want them to take the time to get to know him, not just his quirks, but who he really is. I want them to understand how hard he is trying and to throw him a bone now and then. I hope that they will remember who he is, that he is a kind, loyal boy, and when he says something insensitive, I hope that they will forgive him and remember that he means well.

And if that's how I want people to treat my son, shouldn't I also be treating others that way?


Sprite's Keeper said...

I have noticed that the jerkiness of some people's comments depend on the mood I'm in when I hear them. A few years ago, I eclaimed that an acquaintance was pregnant when she just wasn't. I still think about it every time I see her, especially when she comments, "STILL not pregnant." Oy.

Trish said...

I think this is so true - that often our mood affects how we take others' comments, especially when they have good intentions underneath their words.

I used to hate it when my MIL would respond to my telling her of our current struggles but saying something about how much better he seemed to be doing - taking it as a reprimand for complaining. Now that she has Alzheimer's and can't have much of a conversation at all, I would love to go back to those times.

K- floortime lite mama said...

what a FANTASTIC post

Its so true
I think now for me - intention - is the most important thing
If I think they are trying to make me look small - I get aggravated
Otherwise I really dont mind

Lizbeth said...

Oh my, if I had a dime for every time I stuck my foot in my mouth this week I'd have, like, a buck fifty already!

I've tried really hard to look at things from their point of view. It's not always easy but it kinda helps.

There are days when I just know the person is a total tool and I let their comment slide--not worth the battle when I know the understanding would be lost.

I try to foucs on those who are like me---I have the desire to stop talking but not the ability. :)