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Variant title
Think of Me First as a Person (Rita Dranginis)

Think of Me First as a Person (Rita Dranginis)

Poem Think of Me First as a Person (Rita Dranginis)

Think of Me First as a Person (Rita Dranginis)

You look at me with pity,
concern or indifference,
for I am a retarded child.
But you only see the outside of me.
If I could express myself,
I would tell you what I am inside.

I am very much like you.
I feel pain and hunger.
I cannot ask politely
for a glass of water, but I know
the parched dry feeling of thirst,
I itch when mosquitoes bite me
and run when I see a bee.
I feel cozy drinking cocoa in the kitchen
when a snowstorm blusters outside.

I had a heaviness inside
when I left my mother
to board the minibus for school.
My eyes darted back and forth,
seeking escape,
but knowing there was none.
When my sister takes me
to the playground
and children call me names,
she cries and takes me home.
Then I feel warm and dizzy,
and it is hard for me to breathe.
Mother's eyes are wet; she holds me
and tells me a story, and
I forget the children's jeers.
When I dress myself and Mother
pats my head, saying, "Good job,
Jim!" I feel . . . big. As big as Greg,
who goes to second grade.

I am a child--
in age now, and in ability always.
I find the touch of soft toys
and snuggly dogs comforting.
I love the toys of childhood--
a kite, a balloon, a wagon to pull.
I like to let go at the top of a slide
and after dizzy seconds find myself
at the bottom.
I like sleds on soft snow,
the wetness of rain on my forehead.

Though it is comfortable to be babied,
I am less dependent
when people treat me as a big boy.
I don't want their sympathy;
I want their respect for what I can do.
I am slow, and many things
you take for granted are hard for me.
I can hardly understand
what "tomorrow" means.
It took me months to learn
to pedal the tall blue tricycle,
but I was so proud when at last
both feet pedaled in the same direction
and the wheels went forward.
How happy I was
when I turned on the right faucet
to get a drink of water.
I didn't want to ever turn it off.
If I can learn at my own pace
and still be accepted,
I can fit into a world
where slowness is suspect.

Think of me first as a person,
who hurts and loves and feels joy.
And know I am a child to
encourage and direct.
Smile, and say hello--
even that is enough.

 Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash  

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