Even an episode of Quantum Leap can open things up for a deep discussion between me and Alyssa.
The episode I’m talking about is call “Jimmy.” Sam leaps into the life a young man with Down syndrome. One of the first things Sam says as he looks at his reflection is, “I’m retarded.”
It broke my heart.
When he said it at the end of the previous episode just before we were thrown into the “Jimmy” episode, I said painfully, “Oh Sam, no. Please don’t use that word.”
Alyssa was sitting next to me watching the show. She looked at me because she could hear the tears in my voice.
Now, yes, this show was made in 1989-90, we weren’t making the world aware of how horrible that word is yet. I get that. And yet, I love this show and I love this character and so hearing him say that was horrible.
Alyssa let me hug her when the episode began because we knew the word was coming again.
When it did, I managed not to cry but I did take it upon myself to explain to Alyssa just why that word is so hurtful.
Olivia was sound asleep across the room. She is so beautiful…especially when she’s sleeping. I pointed her out to Alyssa and reminded her that Olivia has a syndrome where she’s missing part of a chromosome and that some things are harder for her than they are for the rest of us. But, I emphasized, that didn’t mean she was stupid or incapable of learning, we just had to make adjustments for her and be patient with her.
I explain that Jimmy had a syndrome where he has an extra chromosome but, like Olivia, that doesn’t make him stupid, he just needs patience and adjustments too.
Alyssa took it all in and watched the show with me.
Near the end, she told me, “Mom, I know it’s hard for you, but remember, it’s just a television show.”
I hugged her and agreed that what we were watching was just a show but that there are people who have to live their lives being told they’re stupid or retarded and it’s hurtful. That we need to make others aware of how much Olivia and kids like her, kids like Jimmy from the show, have to offer. Remind them that these people are human beings with so much love to give, so much to learn and so much to teach us about ourselves and themselves.
The moral of the show was that when people expect someone to screw up, they do so. That when we expect great things, great things happen more often than not. That we can’t judge a person by the number of their chromosomes.
I’m glad I wasn’t alone when that episode came on. I hope Alyssa’s glad too.