This I Believe

Stefanie - Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Entered on April 21, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: children, family
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April 10, 2006

I believe that there is no one in this world who will ever have a better life than my retarded Aunt Joanie. Many people today believe the word “retarded” is politically incorrect or even cruel to use. However, I refuse to call my Aunt Joanie “physically challenged” or “mentally disabled” because she’s not. To me, those words don’t describe her at all.

Joanie was born to my Nana with cerebral palsy on April 1, 1953. She is now 53 years old, but has the mentality of a child hardly over the age of two, with the exceptions that she can use the bathroom and feed herself. Her vocabulary is limited to the words “Ma”, “Shhhh” and, if she likes you, a few random animal noises. Most people I tell this story to would respond with sympathy, and tell me what a shame it is that she was born with such a burden. If you are feeling this way; I ask that you stop and think.

Most of us think about childhood as a time of pure innocence. It was a time that you could do whatever you wanted, and there would always be a way out. It was a time when the worries about employment, taxes, and other responsibilities were non-existent. For Joanie, her only worries are whether or not there are chips in the kitchen or if she could somehow convince my Nana to put her Beatles CD on repeat.

When I was little, Joanie was a constant playmate. She never got bored with me and I could always make her laugh no matter what. Whether we were playing in the sprinkler in the backyard or running around the house with the dog, she always had a great time. I still haven’t met anyone that enjoys me and my sister’s obnoxious rendition of “Stop in the Name of Love” more than my Aunt Joanie, even though she’s probably seen it preformed over 100 times. The only time she ever got upset was when three words were mentioned: foot doctor or lightening. She didn’t like the foot doctor because she has bad corns and associated him with the pain of getting them removed. She didn’t like lightening because she associated it with thunder, and I don’t think I know a small child who enjoys thunder.

The word “retard” is used freely today by people of all ages including myself and my family. For us, the word “retard” means many different things. It can mean silly, naïve, childish, and maybe even stupid. I called my sister a retard the other day for thinking and aphrodisiac was that ingredient in turkey that makes you tired. The word “retard” doesn’t offend me and it doesn’t offend my aunt Joanie. I know there are people with less severe cases of cerebral palsy who are offended by the word retard and that is understandable. For the Sirb family, however, Aunt Joanie is not disabled and she isn’t challenged. She’s had a happier life than anyone I can think of. In fact, if I was retarded, I can only hope to be as retarded as my aunt Joanie.