I I I I I I I  

Bad Mom:
through the ringer

by Amy Silverman

When the Farrelly Brothers' movie The Ringer came out around Christmas, it seemed harmless enough. Itís about an average Joe who pretends to be retarded in order to compete in the Special Olympics. I think heís trying to pay off an uncleís gambling debt or pay for a friendís hand reattachment surgery, but I'm not sure, because I couldn't get through the trailer. And even though I heard the Special Olympics people signed off on the film, and the critics all said itís hilarious, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to watch it.

Thatís because I have a retarded kid.

And I have come to the conclusion that when you have a retarded kid, you canít make fun of retards.

The other day, a guy at work showed up in a tee shirt that said, ďHomosexuals are so gay.Ē

All day, people pointed and laughed.

I tried it out on Sophie.

ďPeople with Down syndrome are so retarded.Ē

Not funny.

Sophie is only two, so Iím leaving the door open to the possibility that at some point, having a retarded kid might be funny. But for now, itís not. And that really pisses me off, because Iíve always been the kind of person who tries to look on the sick-joke side of life. I like to think I have a good sense of humor, and itís grounded, like most funny stuff, in the ability to be self-deprecating. For example, I love a good Jewish joke (as long as it has nothing to do with ovens), and as long as I Ė or another Jew Ė am telling it. Even at the height of the politically correct thing, you could still snark on yourself, right? And now that weíre past P.C., the world of comedy is pretty much a free-for-all. Itís so post- modern. The other day I heard a joke I thought was really funny:

What do you call a black guy who flies a plane?

A pilot, you racist.

I told that joke so many times and laughed so hard, that finally my husband asked, `What kind of a bigot are you?í That stopped me cold. I thought that was a joke that made fun of bigots Ė but maybe not.

(continued at right)



Itís all gotten so confusing, and no more so than when it comes to Sophie. Itís not funny to make fun of your kid with Down syndrome. I know; Iíve tried. We took the girls to have their pictures taken with Santa (OK, so Iím not a very good Jew) and in the picture, Sophie looks, well, retarded.

I pointed that out to a friend, who looked like he wanted to kill himself. Or me.

Iíve thought about it a lot, and I might have figured it out. Itís not funny to make fun of your retarded kid Ė or, really, any retarded person Ė because thereís no way that kid or person will ever be in on the joke. By the nature of the exact situation youíre making fun of, they canít make fun, too. Sure, theyíll laugh along, but will they really get it?

So far, Sophie doesnít. Of course, that could be because sheís two. Iím planning to hold out hope as long as possible. I could use a laugh.

Ever since I had my kids, but particularly since Sophie was born, I feel like someone turned off a filter in my head. Lights are too bright, sounds are too loud. I canít bear to read a story in the paper about an abused kid, but I canít tear my eyes away, either.

Before Sophie, it was sad when a kid was sick. Now I canít watch my formerly favorite guilty pleasure television show, E.R., because I recognize the string of medical terms theyíre shouting over a patient. I really try not to feel sorry for myself. Yeah, Sophie had open heart surgery when she was three- months- old, but her heart is OK, now. And yeah, last month she was crying bloody tears after eye surgery, but the surgery was minor, and I sat in the waiting room at Phoenix Childrens Hospital during the 15 minute procedure and watched parents carting their children to chemotherapy in little red wagons and wondered how on earth they find the strength to do that?

So you understand that I can use a little levity in my life. And I want you to have some, too, because I donít want you to feel sorry for me, or for Sophie. I donít want you to ask how itís been on Annabelle, her four-year-old sister, or how this whole thing is affecting my marriage.

Recently, a guy I work with pulled me aside and said, ďLook, a lot of times, in staff meetings, people use the word retarded. Want me to ask them to stop?Ē

ďNo,Ē I replied, honestly. ďPlease donít say anything. I donít even notice it.Ē

And I hadnít. But from that day on, Iíve noticed every time anyone, anywhere, has used the word retarded. And then Iíve noticed how often, just afterward, they wince.

Do we have to talk about that? Letís just have a laugh.

Iím trying. I used to read constantly. I still read, but now itís usually those horrible parenting magazines or Sandra Boynton books. In the middle of the night, when I canít sleep, I sneak into the bathroom and read the books I want to read -- gobbling them like cookies in the near dark. I love Augusten Burroughs, because nothingís off limits for that guy.

But one night, I had to come to terms with the fact that there are some things that are now off limits for me.

I was reading Burroughsí latest book, a collection of essays, and I came to one that delved into one of his favorite topics, cruising at bars. He recounted a tale a friend told him about going out drunk and picking up a guy, waking up the next morning and realizing, to his horror, that his conquest had Down syndrome.

Perched on the closed toilet I thought I was going to vomit. I put down the book, climbed into bed, lay there and thought, `Well, at least that guy with Down syndrome was high- functioning enough to go out to a bar by himself. And to know he was gay. Thatís something.í

Thatís not enough for a person Ė me Ė who two years ago would have cringed but giggled at the image of Augusten Burroughsí friend realizing he fucked a retard.

And thatís part of it. Not only is that stuff not funny anymore, but I sicken myself at the thought that it ever was funny to me. What kind of a horrible excuse for a human being am I?

Wait. It gets worse.

When Sophie was about two- weeks- old, I suddenly remembered Pink Slip. Pink Slip is an instructional video made in the 70s. Completely serious at the time, but now a joke making the rounds on the Internet. A friend of mine got a copy years ago and we watched it again and again and howled. Iíd never known anyone with Down syndrome (I didnít even watch that show with Corky in it. Retarded people have always made me nervous). Iím not even sure I knew that Jill, the main character in the video, had it Ė just that she was kind of slow. The video portrays Jillís entire family Ė in incredible detail, including her fatherĖ teaching Jill about her period. It even includes a scene in which Susie, Jillís older sister, pulls down her pants to reveal her own thick maxi-pad.

Shit, I thought, staring at my new baby. Iím going to have to get a copy of Pink Slip for myself when Sophie hits puberty. Really. This is a kid who likes to chew on dirty socks. How am I going to teach her about menstruation?

I know Iím supposed to completely change my personality, now that I have a kid with Down syndrome. Iím trying to take pleasure in lifeís simple joys, as revealed to me in Sophieís beautiful smile. And it is beautiful, and she does bring me a kind of happiness I never knew existed, which is what parents of kids with Down syndrome always tell you. Itís true, Iím not trying to discount it. Iím just trying to figure out how to handle all that joy, and still have a laugh.
 About the Author:
Amy Silverman
lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband Ray Stern and daughters Annabelle and Sophie. When she's not wiping noses and butts at home, she's associate editor of New Times, the alt weekly in Phoenix, where she also spends a lot of time wiping noses and butts -- and editing. She's a contributor to KJZZ, the Phoenix NPR affiliate, and although having kids has pretty much limited her traveling to San Diego and Disneyland, she's been writing quite a bit lately for The New York Times travel section. Amy's proud to say she's been published by both Playboy and Fit Pregnancy, and that John McCain once yelled, "Can't you shut your daughter up?" at her father in the Senate dining room, to which her father responded that that was impossible. Amy likes to balance her motherfucker persona at the alt weekly by co-teaching the Mothers Who Write workshop, which focuses on memoir/fiction and poetry for mothers of all ages and writing experiences.




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