Todd : Retard

April 9, 2020

So, a kid comes home from a bike ride looking upset and riding past mom into the garage.

Mom is getting her hands dirty in a large pot, one of two staged in front of the garage. She sees the kid is upset and she struggles to maintain her own composure for the benefit of her child, as she stands up and tries to mosey, nonchalantly, over to her wounded child to find out what is going on.

Mother cares very much for this child, but she also wants the child to be strong, tough and savvy in a world gone mad. She has seen how running to the sight of a wounded child and simultaneously trying to console and comfort the child while hammering the child with pointed questions that ultimately lead to whatever preconceived notion about what she has suspected has happened all along has done more harm than good in a variety of ways.

Children have instincts just like all creatures of the earth, and they will use those instincts to satisfy their needs. They don’t need toys as much as they need a mothers milk. They don’t need justice as much as they need to please their caregiver so that the care and attention keeps coming. They have little impulse control and will take sugar over broccoli every time.

Mother asks, “How was your bike ride, honey?”, as she pulls her gardening gloves off her hands to set on the edge of the washbasin next to the washer dryer setup in the corner of the garage by the family bikes.

The child toes the kickstand of the bike down and stands it up saying, “Billy’s grandpa just called me a retard.”

As calmly as she can, the mother crosses over to her child and placing her hand on the child’s shoulder says, “Oh honey, I’m sorry.”

Mother is confident that this is the best move to make after hearing those words come out of her child’s smart mouth. Some of the most shocking things she has ever heard have come out of this child’s mouth and that’s partly because she is this child’s mother. It is also partly because this child likes to say things and see how mother will react.

The child’s face rises to look at mother’s face, searching for something deep in her eyes. The mother tries to maintain her composure, but meets her childs gaze. The confrontation lasts only a beat before the child shrugs out from under mothers touch to remove the helmet and hang it by its chin strap on one of the bikes handlebars.

Once the touch is broken by the child, mother says, “I’d really like to talk about this if you don’t mind.”

The child, still wounded, says, “Okay.”

Mother says, “I will get some ice water and we can talk about it in the gazebo. Okay?”

The child says, “I have to pee first.”

Mother emerges from the house through a sliding glass door with a platter holding a glass pitcher of ice water with cucumber slices in it and two tall glasses. She proceeds down a path of pavers a short distance to the gazebo where the child is sitting on a chair set at a table in the center of the gazebo.

Mother pours them both a glass of ice water and sits down as the child takes a long drink. Sensing that after a potty break and a drink, the child is much less anxious and fatigued, mother says, “Now, how about you tell me exactly what happened, starting with just before you met Billy’s grandfather.”

The child began, gaze drifting upward in remembrance, “Well, I was on the bike path coming up to the drinking fountain, and Billy’s grandpa was sitting on the park bench next to it. I stopped to get a drink and Billy’s grandpa said, ‘Hey, I see you have a bike helmet on. You pretty good with that bike?’ I said, ‘I guess so.”, and Billy’s grandpa said, ‘Well lets see some tricks, then’. I didn’t know what he meant by that, and I told him so, and he said, ‘Well, you know, like a bunny hop, or a wheely, or a nollie, or a nose bonk, or a stoppie, or a fakey. Tell me, what’s your favorite trick?”

“I told him I didn’t know any of those tricks and he said, ‘What? Well what are you wearing that helmet for?’ Then he sort of stopped and said, ‘Hey kid. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, ya know. I get it. You got like special needs or something. You don’t want to fall down and go boom. I got a granddaughter who thinks she’s a dude. No sweat. Forget I ever mentioned it.’ And then he walked away shaking his head. So I’m riding home and I realize that he just called me a retard.”

Mother takes a moment to consider, as her child takes another long drink of ice water, capturing an ice cube and chomping down on it with muffled crunching noises. She says to the child, “Honey, this is a lot to process. One thing about it is I am glad that Billy’s grandfather didn’t actually call you retarded. Another is I wish you wouldn’t use the word retard the way you are using it. Some people would find that word very offensive and you could get in all sorts of trouble using that word around the wrong people.”

“Like retards?”, asks the child around a mouth full of semi crushed ice.

“Honey. Honestly. That word is not a good word to use in polite company and I really would rather you not use it around me. There are many people today that care very deeply for someone in their family who is actually retarded or has been brutalized and bullied by someone who made fun of them by calling them retarded.”

“Though I am very unsatisfied by all of the alternative words and descriptive phrases that social justice warriors and the politically correct have tried to use to describe the mentally retarded, ‘retard’ is too bold and too blunt for people to use and I don’t want you to use it either.”

“So, do you think Billy’s grandpa was making fun of me for wearing a bike helmet?” asks the child.

“Honey, you wear a bike helmet because your father and I wont let you ride your bike unless you wear a bike helmet. We all wear our bike helmets when we go bike riding because we all want to be protected in case we fall off our bikes or are hit by a car. With our helmets on, we are much less likely to suffer a brain injury if we wind up hitting our heads on something through some sort of misadventure like falling off our bikes or getting hit by a car.”

“Your father and I never used helmets when we were kids and neither did Billy’s grandfather. I’m sorry but that is the truth. We were lucky that we never got hurt too badly when we fell off our bikes or got hit by cars, but your father and I decided that we would never be able to forgive ourselves if we let you take the same dangerous risks that we did when we were kids. Besides helmets were too expensive when we were kids and too heavy to wear. Then they became lightweight and inexpensive so every family could buy enough for the whole family and we did.”

“So, long story short, you are going to have to wear a helmet if you are going to be riding your bike. Now, if you want to learn some tricks you can do on your bike, you know, to sort of help you justify wearing your helmet, that can probably be arranged. You see that’s probably what Billy’s grandfather was talking about. He probably thinks that anyone can ride a bike just like he did when he was a kid, but he might have been too frightened to do any tricks because he could not protect himself, in case he fell down. So maybe he never learned any tricks, and then he sees you with a helmet on and maybe he just assumes you know a lot more than he ever got to learn about riding bikes.”

The child looks skeptically at mother because her ideas on the matter do not completely jive with the experience or the story the child told her, but the idea of learning some tricks and being able to perform them, when next Billy’s grandpa should be hanging around the fountain, sounds kind of good.

Mother has a bit more to say and she continues, “Now as far as Billy’s grandfather goes, I don’t want you to think that I am trying to get him off the hook, but the fact is, most people who are honest with themselves admit to being a little hurt and protective of their own experiences growing up when they see things that are so different then what they experienced when they were younger peoples ages.”

“They don’t really think the music they grew up with was better or the movies and television they grew up with was better or of greater quality entertainment. But they do ‘feel’ like that stuff was better. They actually can’t help but feel like if they let go of what they used to love, and what was so familiar to them, they will lose themselves, and they are right.”

“What they don’t realize, sometimes until it is too late, is that all the stuff, any of the stuff that was important at any time at all, is not really as important as right now. And right now is all that matters and people should always need to be their best right now.”

“So Billy’s grandfather probably had a laugh at your expense. He made a little joke to himself that he found amusing, and when you figured it out, you were hurt.”

“It’s kind of terrible that he would do that because as an adult, he should be someone who I can count on to look after you and keep you safe. But when he does stuff like that, it makes it very difficult for me to trust that he will have your best interests at heart when I need him to.”

Mother gets up from her chair and crosses over to her child. She tousles the kid’s hair and looks deep into the kid’s eyes searching for something. Whether she found it or not, she drops to one knee and embraces her child.

She leans back from her embrace and says, “That being said, I guess I leave it up you to as to whether or not we should count him in as someone I should trust, but we should wait until your father comes home to discuss that as a family. What do you say?”

The kid says, simply, “Okay.”, but it is the smile, right now, that says it all.

Todd : Body Mod

March 12, 2018

So, a kid, morning fresh, with a backpack, comes bounding down the steps and the sun is in the kid’s eyes because it is early morning, and the kid bounces to the kitchen breakfast table, where other kids of varying age and looking familially similar to the kid are eating breakfast food, and also seated there is dad with mom on the phone in the background.

The kid reaches for a food item on the table and says, “Dad what are you doing here this late?”

Dad says, “Well, your mother is taking your oldest sister to her gender reassignment appointment in the city so I will be taking you to school this morning.”

Mom, not paying any attention to the chatter at the breakfast table, can be heard saying, “Well I don’t think I like the sound of that…”

The kid glances around presumably looking for the oldest sister, and asks dad, “Dad, has anybody asked you what you think about your oldest daughter having a gender reassignment? Did I say that right?”

Mom can be heard saying, “I have every right to be concerned, honey…”

Dad says, “If you said gender reassignment then you said it right. And, nobody has asked me what I think about it. I am pretty surprised by that. Has anybody asked you what you think about it?”

The kid says, “No. The reason I asked you is because the tv says kids should ask their elders what they think about stuff they don’t know very much about.”

Dad, presumably thinking he is being funny, scowls conspiratorially and says, “Ah so the tv is telling kids to ask their elders what they think about stuff they think their elders don’t know anything about, eh?”

The kid barrels on oblivious of the attempt at cleverness, and says, “Uh, the tv says that kids need to admit when they don’t know about stuff. Tv says kids don’t know much but they never admit that. The tv says kids should ask elders what they think about stuff as a way of admitting they don’t know everything without having to say they don’t know everything. I don’t know much about gender reassignment.”

An older sibling sitting at the table says, “Well, you’re obviously an expert on everything else…” drawing the kids attention and then they stick their tongue out at the kid.

Before the sight can get under the skin of the kid, dad says, again conspiratorially, “So the tv IS telling people stuff! I just knew it! Tell me, do you know much of what the tv is telling people?”

Dad successfully diffuses the situation by distraction and the kid says, “Uh…I don’t know. Maybe?”

Dad says, “Well that is interesting. We must speak more about this later. But on to your first question. What do I think about my eldest daughter having a gender reassignment? Is your milk poured? Good.”

Mother can be seen pressing the end call icon on her phone as her attention is drawn to her husband and what he is about to say…, “Your mother and I have not yet settled on what we think about it, but what I think about it, what I have thought about it has been quite a lot.”

Holding his chin in his hand, Dad, says, “It has been so much, in fact, that I have had to compartmentalize it, looking at small thoughts, incomplete thoughts, raw and unconsidered thoughts, drawing them out and thinking very carefully about them. And then, because these thoughts are about my oldest daughter, my family, my child, I have been considering these thoughts with love and understanding and kindness, it’s a big deal.” By now he is gesticulating with his hands, miming the handling of thoughts of various size and temperament.

“By small thoughts, I mean childlike thoughts like kids might hear on the playground waiting in line to play some four square, or slide down the big corkscrew slide. Usually mean things, because kids are mean. Deliciously mean. Viciously mean. They can rhyme any name with any mean and vile thing they can think of with hardly any effort at all. If the secret to world peace was a disgusting thing that rhymed with the name of a kid, then we would all have known the secret to world peace long long ago. I didn’t really stop to think of words that rhyme with gender reassignment, but one think I thought of was body modification. Do you know what body modification is?”

The kid’s head shakes a negative, but the tongue waggling sibling blurts, “Pierced ears!” deftly bringing finger tips behind an earlobe to show off one pierced ear.

Dad says, “Exactly. Body modification, piercings, tattoos, implants, dye-jobs, facelifts, cosmetic surgery. Deciding to modify ones body is a big deal, no matter how others may try to make light of it. Even pierced ears on girls is a big deal. Some parents make that decision for their infant children. Others firmly stand up to the pleading of their children and refuse to let them pierce their ears until they are eighteen years old. And what is the result?”

Dad answers his rhetorical question, saying, “The result is many children pierce their own ears at a friends sleep over, risking infection and maybe even death, just to modify their own bodies. And it isn’t just to modify their own bodies. And it isn’t just to fit in or be cool. Some people just don’t feel right and they think they will never feel like themselves unless they do the modification. They think it will make them fit in or feel better. They may or may not be qualified to decide what is or is not cool, but that has never stopped a kid from deciding what is cool or not.”

The kid says, “Yeah. I get that.” Nodding sagely.

Dad, continues. “So, body mods are a big deal and also lead people to make extremely drastic and dangerous decisions that may kill them. Gender reassignment is a body mod. Though others may say it is different than that, that is incorrect. That is one of the biggest things I think about gender reassignment. Now, having crunched that little number, I can remember what it was like seeing this ones pierced ears after a seemingly innocent sleepover at a friends house. This one decided exactly what was going to happen and how it was going to happen and nothing I or your mother could say about it was going to change what was going to happen.”

At this time, mother shows a keen interest in what dad is about to say next, and what he says is, “What is wonderful about that experience is that I’ve already had a child of mine,” Dad now reaches to put an arm around the pierced one and draw the child lovingly into an embrace, “who had made a decision about a body mod. That experience has already been done. I didn’t buy the tee shirt, but I definitely rode the horse. I was never given a chance to weigh in on the subject that time. No one asked me what I thought about it this time. All I needed to do then was what I need to do now and that is decide if I am going to stop loving my child because of the decision about a body modification that that child made. The answer is no.”

Dad, feeling like he needs to do some more ‘splaining, went on to say, “The question of whether I should stop loving the child might suggest that for me there is something unsavory or untoward or upsetting about body mods. It does upset me and scare me that one of my children is going to do something that is dangerous and risky, something that could get infected and that may lead to my child’s death if it is not handled with great care. The recklessness of a child can be very upsetting, but it is by no means a reason to stop loving the child.”

All the people at the table are visibly relieved at how dad handles the subject.

Then the pierced one pipes in, “What about the crazy? She’s going to be a dude, dude!”