28 March, 2010

How a Person's Name Becomes an Adjective.

Have you ever thought about how language changes? How much faster it changes now that we have all of this technology and life moves so quickly. We add new words to our vocabularies every day, and sometimes words come about because of the actions of a person, eponyms, which I find fascinating.

The word lynch? Comes from Charles Lynch (1736-1796), a planter and justice of the peace from Virginia who "headed an irregular court to punish Loyalist supporters of the British during the American Revolutionary War."

Etienne de Silhouette was a French finance minister whose name became associated with these simple pieces of art, and "anything done or made cheaply" when he had to make some very tough decisions during a particularly bleak economy in 1700s France.

An abducted child became the "Amber alert", a legislator from 7th century B.C. gives us Draconian law, and

I'm afraid the name Smockity Frocks may have just become synonymous with someone who judges our special needs children unabashedly, and someome who, even when told of their grave error in mistaking autism for bad manners, has no room in their heart for apologies, only defensiveness. 

There has been quite a hullabaloo in the last few days over Smockity's post, "In Which Smockity Considers Jabbing a Ball Point Pen Into Her Eye" (which she has since taken down, but is available through a Google cache also: I am not the Jennifer that commented on her post), and with good reason I think. Her post basically describes an encounter at the local library with what I can only see, by Smockity's own description, is a girl with autism, and her caretaker. It's obvious by the way that Smockity openly mocks the girl and her grandmother's behavior, (while praising her own virtue),  that she must not have any idea she is making fun of a disabled person, because who would do that, in public? on their popular website?

And I probably would have read the post, possibly commented, then shook my head, knowing that the battles ahead will be many, and that just as we are no where near being color blind in this country, we sure as hell aren't close to tolerating people with disabilities.  I would have let it be, and signed it off to ignorance, but the comments! Agh the comments, many, many readers extolling her virtues, her patience, her parenting skills. And perhaps, is it possible that none of those people have ever seen someone with autism either? Or perhaps they think they all look like Rain Man? I doubt it, but perhaps. But when Smockity is gently, very gently, presented with the idea that the child may have been autistic I thought I would see a turn-around, an apology, a paragraph at the top of the post with something like, "I have left this post up, as a perfect example of how we judge each other without knowing and without love, and perhaps a quote from Matthew 7:
 1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Perhaps a quote from one of her readers "There are so many lessons in this one experience." Or maybe something about how she learned a little bit about herself, and about autism, and about how blessed she is all over again with her beautiful family, who has apparently been untouched by anything outside of the norm neurologically.

I know I would have come up with a few, more than a few, humble words to apologize for hurting so. many. people. And it's not just that she judged this one day in the library, but you know what myfriendConnie? We already don't take Jake to the library because of Smockities like you. And now it makes me wonder where else you are? and it's not just that you hurt us once, but now it is just one more story I sadly add to the mental file labeled "Painful moments I wish had never happened, or at least I wish I'd never heard about, because now I will always wonder if that's going to happen to me."

When we took our last big family trip to Hawaii over the holidays, there was a big old Smockity on the plane. He and his wife were sitting four rows from the bathroom, and on the way back to our seats, in the last 45 minutes of our flight after waiting, waiting for the bathroom and being cramped in there with me, Jake just could not take it anymore. As we tried to navigate back to our seats, I was holding back his arms, so he wouldn't touch anyone. I was telling him what a great job he was doing not touching anyone, when he clearly was touching everything he could when he got the chance. Jake broke out of my grip and in his effort to run (CP and all) down the aisle of the plane back to his seat, he put his left hand on that Smockity's shoulder, grazed his arm, touched his newspaper and made a really loud whoop-de whooo. Descartes heard Jake's distress call, got up and guided him the last few rows to his seat.

As I was running past the man who Jake had touched, not injured, just touched, the smockity man bellowed "What's wrong with that boy? Why can't you control your son?" His wife grabbed his arm and said something quickly, but he pulled his arm away from her and continued to glare at me, because of course I was so stunned that I was still standing there. He had decided there was something wrong with my child, and that I was a bad parent all in one fell swoop.  I apologized, of course, because I always apologize for my child's genetic and unalterable neurological condition, because even though we are not supposed to blame ourselves, of course this is my fault, everything about it, because he's my genetic code and I gave birth to him, and I left the house with him. So, I told the man that Jake is autistic, and asked the man if he was okay. Instead of *any* sign of grace, the smockity man harrumphed at me and went back to his paper. I went back to my seat and sobbed.

He saw us again outside, when we were waiting for Jake's wheelchair (which they inconveniently take to the curb in Honolulu). Jake slipped out of my clutches right as the man stepped through the sliding doors. I caught the sleeve of Jake's shirt and yanked him back to me, terrified that two more steps and he would have been under a car rental shuttle bus, or under the smockity man's foot. That man looked right through us. His wife, right behind him, smiled a half smile, which was the probably the best attempt she could make to apologize for her boorish husband.

Want to hear more stories? I have more. We all have them, any of us who have children that are outside of the norm, and these are just the stories of the people who said out loud their disgust or displeasure of having us in their presence. I don't know how many other people we've nearly made poke out their eye with a pen. Smockity's post makes me think there are hundreds, if not thousands more people who have been thinking ill of us and on the verge of self-inflicted blindness.

But lest you think that the whole world is filled with Smockities, on the return flight home from Hawaii, when Jake was *not* patiently waiting, and just wanted to go into the bathrooms that became available, a woman next to us, and next in line, said, "Would it be better for him to go next? Would that be better for him?" and of course I got all teary eyed, because it was the nicest, thing, said in the nicest way. It was also easy for her to give, and probably in her best safety interest since he was beginning to flail, but she didn't need to offer, and she never really even made eye contact with us. She wasn't trying to be friends, or even be the knowing mom, she was just trying to be a decent human being who could offer me this one thing during what was an obviously difficult moment for my kid.

It doesn't take much to help families like mine feel like we are welcome in the world. Let's start with being more kind. Let's take a deep breath. Let's think about how someone else's life might be very, very, different from our own.
1Corinthians 13:12-13 "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall fully know even as I also am fully known. And now faith, hope, charity, these three remain; but the greatest of these is charity [love]."
What about this? A little less smockity, and lot more charity.


post script to my post. On March 30th Smockity Frocks posted this apology on her blog. I sent her a note thanking her for what I believe is a sincere apology.

An Apology

by Smockity Frocks on March 30, 2010
From the very beginning, I have always wanted this blog to be a blessing, something to help others, and never to hurt. I wanted to make people laugh, even in the midst of parenting trials.
It has become evident that I have not achieved that goal. I have unintentionally caused hurt and pain and for that I am truly sorry.
When I described a situation I observed recently, I was seeing in my mind and describing on my blog behavior that I have witnessed dozens of times in my own seven children and hundreds of students during my eight years as a school teacher.  The behavior I described was nothing more to me than childishness and impatience, but I can see now that the words I used were viewed as symptoms of autism and many people were offended.
The most grievous part, for me, is that this has brought dishonor to the name of Christ, and that is wholly the opposite of my life’s mission.
It is my sincere hope that this apology will bring healing and peace.
Given the nature of many of the emails I have received, please understand why I feel it is necessary to close the comments on this post.

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