(Don't) Focus on NORMAL


This charming little sign has lived for years in a prominent place in our kitchen. I installed it there lest any guests get the crazy idea that we're NORMAL.

Starting at eight years old, I swam on a swim team at a local pool club. We’d leave the house at 8 a.m. each weekday. I’d hold on tight, one arm around Mom’s waist and the other gripping my towel, as we sped on her motorcycle down the east shore of the lake toward the club, the dips of the road memorized by my stomach. She had a Yamaha 250 Enduro Sport, the original seventies hybrid. She used to like to say, “It makes the commute fun, and saves on gas, too!”

At the time, I was desperately jealous of the other kids whose moms bounced down the road in their wood-paneled Ford and Pontiac station wagons. That was NORMAL. Swinging my leg off the back of Mom’s motorcycle, avoiding the hot muffler as she handed me a buck for food, was NOT NORMAL. Using a metallic gold helmet as a beach bag? NOT NORMAL.

Fast forward a few decades, and I still hadn't fully learned the lesson that NORMAL is not necessarily the goal. My family attended a reunion in Ocean City, New Jersey. We took the obligatory group shots, and then I tried to procure a few of my nuclear family while I had an extended family member take the photo. Despite my pleading, Aaron poked Mary. Mary squealed. My husband’s hand squeezed my shoulder, and I felt Bryn looking for an exit. Through a fading smile, I begged: “Could we just be NORMAL for two seconds?”

One of the many cousins heckled us from the deck through guffaws: “That’s it. Focus on NORMAL.” We all joined in the laughter. The ridiculousness of my plea hung out there, right in the open, in front of the vast extended family, a living, breathing reminder that NORMAL doesn't really exist, especially in families.

The reality is that none of us is "normal" and therefore, striving for "normal" is a fool's errand. Yet we are pushed towards normal by fear. Big, Fat, Capitalized FEAR. Seventh-grade-locker-room-level, stomach-churning fear. We’ve all got our share of that stuff. Our individual fears are really, really good at perpetuating our desire to be accepted and loved and even needed by others. Yet, at least for me, as I pursue genuine happiness, getting over my hang-ups about tracking to "normal" have done more for peace of mind than anyone else’s opinion of me ever has.

And as time passes, my life experiences continue to support this observation. One moment that drove home this lesson also reminded me of just how cool my Mom was (and is). Back when Aaron was 12, as we were waiting for the bus in my NORMAL station wagon, Aaron turned to me and said, “I wish you could drive me to school on Dad’s motorcycle.”


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