Editor's note: Phoebe Holmes is a writer and mother of four. One of her daughters, Maura, is cognitively disabled. Holmes is an American currently living in Dublin, Ireland, and blogging about life abroad and parenting at phoebeholmes.com.
It all began with a status update on Facebook. Someone posted about how “retarded” they felt because they couldn’t make a choice about something. My first reaction was to ignore it. But I kept thinking about it, why it bothered me, and ultimately decided to blog about it. As a parent of a child with cognitive disabilities, that word just gets under my skin, no matter how I try to ignore it.
As my blog was mostly read by friends and family, I thought it would be a good way to explain why the word “retarded” -- used as a slang term for “stupid” -- bothered me. I spent about ten minutes writing it. Two weeks later, I’ve gotten over half a million hits on that one blog post, mostly because of people sharing it on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s a bit overwhelming, the sudden internet "fame." There have been a few negative or rude responses, but overwhelmingly, the responses have been positive. People have apologized for using the word in its slang form and have promised to correct themselves. Teachers have asked for permission to use the blog post in classroom discussions. I was giddy when I found out that Pink and Alyssa Milano thought it was an important enough message to share on Twitter, and touched when Hollywood writers Rhett Reese and Gabe Miller (who had also shared it on Twitter ) thought was not only an important message, but well-written as well. Most of all, though, I’ve gotten a lot of thanks from people for saying something they themselves had been wanting to say, but couldn’t find the words to explain it.
As I said to one friend, “How do you thank literally thousands of people?” I am grateful to all those who read my blog post and am honored to loan my voice to the thousands of others in similar situations. Really, the word I keep coming back to is overwhelmed -- by how the blog post spread, by the response to it, by inadvertently becoming a spokesperson for members of society that can’t always speak for themselves, including my little girl. I shall continue to speak for my child, and those like her, and hopefully people will listen as they did this time.