An Open Letter to Jack Stuef

Dear Jack,

I read your “Happy Birthday to Trig Palin” post, and it seems rather clear to me that you’ve never met a person with Down Syndrome. My brother Mitchell has Down Syndrome and autism, which is a rare but not unheard of combination. I thought I would tell you a bit about him so you can clear up some of the misconceptions you have about Downs people.

You appear to believe that retarded people can’t dream. No, I am not offended by the word “retarded”. First of all, it is accurate. The new politically correct term is “mentally challenged” or “intellectually disabled”, but mentally retarded is a correct way to describe Mitchell. Just like idiot, imbecile, and moron, “retarded” has entered the vernacular as a way to describe people who are stupid. This hasn’t bothered me since I was 13 years of age, and by then I had heard it a thousand or more times. “Retarded” is not offensive any more than you’d be offended when someone calls you an idiotic, imbecilic moron. So that is not the issue. The issue is that you don’t know what retarded people can and can’t do.

 

Truthfully, Mitchell has never told me if he dreams. However, when I was ten and he was six, I went through this pretty intense carrot eating phase. Carrots were my favorite after-school snack, and I would come home, park my backside in front of the TV, and munch a few during Voltron and She-Ra. One day, Mitchell was watching me quite intently with his bag of nacho cheese Doritos (the only kind they had back then). I offered him a carrot and he took it, but he didn’t eat it. He just held it for a little bit in front of his interested face, then shook it back and forth a little to make the green leaves wiggle. I took one and bit into it extra loud to show him that they were a delicious crunchy food. He looked disturbed.

Mitchell then held the carrot like kids normally hold baby dolls. He then started to pet the green “hair” of the carrot. I told him, “No, stupid, you EAT it,” and then took another crunch. He looked at me in horror and ran off with his carrot baby. I yelled out to my mother making dinner in the kitchen, “Muuuuuuum! Mitchell ran off with a carrot!” and, in usual motherly fashion, she yelled back “Oh for Chrissakes, Kellie, I’m making dinner. Let him eat it!” As the commercial had ended, I shrugged and went back to my cartoons.

Mitchell proceeded to love and care for that freakin’ carrot for about a month. Carrots get very dry after a couple of days, and it never rotted. The leaves got a bit crunchy, but were preserved like raffia. He sang to it, he made it dance, and in his funny little Mitchelese accent, called it “Mah cawwot.” I took to eating carrots in secret because it upset him so much. One day, it just wasn’t there any more, and he stole my Rainbow Brite doll. That was his new baby. We had no idea where the carrot went.

Later that week, my mother was changing the sheets on my brother’s bed. He had tucked the carrot between the box spring and the mattress, presumably to hide it from me, and it was preserved and leafy and very, very dry. My mother secretly tossed it.

If a Downs child can pretend that a carrot is a baby or a friend, he can surely dream, can’t he?

You also state that Trig Palin arrived in this world “somewhat alive”. Well, if you’ve ever watched a Downs kid (or adult, for that matter) throw a big fat Downs Tantrum, you know they are very much alive, and their lungs are in fantastic repair (their hearts, not so much). Downs people are very stubborn, and if they want to run after Donald Duck at Disney World, my God, you better have your Pumas on. When they get a Batman cake for their 12th birthday and they make everyone sing the Batman theme song, they are fully alive. When someone even remotely kind of mentions Christmas and nothing will get done until the entire family sings every Christmas song he knows, they are fully alive.

 

My brother obsessed over Depeche Mode with me and worships Hulk Hogan. He loves to do 500+ piece puzzles, utterly lit up when I got him a Chinese dragon puppet last Christmas, and at times has been known to practice psychometry. He cracks up at Pee Wee Herman and he hates when women talk too much. He dumped his beautiful blonde girlfriend because she was too bossy. My brother is totally alive, Jack, in a way some of us will never be. When was the last time you were truly unbelievably excited to go to Wendy’s?

My brother was also not the product of incest, as you appear to believe Trig Palin to be. My father is a doctor from Czechoslovakia and my mother is a surgical concierge from England. They are in no way related. Neither my sister or I are the mother of my brother, as I was four when he was born, and my sister came after him. My sister writes plays and I am admittedly the biggest screw up, since I never finished my psychology degree and was insane enough to become self employed in California. My brother, who has been employed for a long time, has a more stable job outlook than I do.

I do realize that you might be picking on Trig Palin with some cynical political agenda. If so, I hope you have not bullied other mothers out of being in the public eye. You seem to think babies with no capacity to comprehend your ignorant statements to be fair game. This is not hurtful to the baby, but to the mother, ANY mother, and the loved ones of all such babies. You have chosen a target with absolutely no use to you but to display the incomprehensible and adamant cruelty of yourself and your colleagues. The apologies offered were merely vehicles to further your hit piece. On a baby. With Down Syndrome.

I’d like for you to be remembered as the guy who bothered to learn about Down Syndrome and redeemed himself by helping others to do the same. I’m very happy to help you with that, if you sincerely choose to do so.

Thanks in advance,

Mitchell’s “Sassy”.

UPDATE!

At 1:28PM PST today, April 22, 2011, Jack Stuef sent me the following tweet, which I’d like to share with you. I appreciate this response very much. I believe that offering perspective is the best way to reach out, and he responded in kind.

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