Photo by Daveybot
“Normal” is such a complicated word.
We each grow up with our own entrenched ideas of what normal is, which means, of course, there is no such thing. Yet the world loves to pretend like there is—if normal doesn’t exist, exactly, then at least there’s a perceived ideal normalcy that we should all strive for, or even pretend to have grasped.
When I was my daughters’ ages, “normal” was living in a modest ranch house in a small town with two parents who were both teachers and therefore had summers off. Normal was going to lots of symphony concerts and plays, but almost never going out to eat, and certainly never staying in hotels. Normal was spending our summers traveling across the country by car to see the sights, and camping along the way. Normal was being dedicated to both church and the Democratic party.
How would your kids define normal?
For my girls, normal is something different. They have four parents and two houses—and therefore two bedrooms and two sets of toys. They have more people to love, but also more people to miss, because they can’t possibly be with all of us at the same time. When I married Jason, my girls suddenly gained not only a stepfather, but also a stepsister and extra grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
Normal is even less normal—at least by the world’s standards—for my stepdaughter. It first really struck me when I filled out her camp information form one summer. I was listing the emergency contacts—their names and phone numbers and their relationship to H. There was her mom, her dad, her step mom and…her other step mom (H’s mom’s life partner). H has three moms, two step sisters, and a baby brother who is essentially her half brother yet not biologically so.
I often wonder about H’s mature ability to embrace her brand of normal and be such a happy kid. I imagine it helps that all four of her parents are good friends, but that also makes it even less normal. When I met Jason, we were all going to the same church, and all four of us became friends. Jason and I went to his ex-wife’s wedding, and she and her partner came to ours. We celebrated their baby’s first birthday together, and we all went traipsing around to visit schools for H a couple of years ago, introducing ourselves to school principals by saying “We’re all her parents.”
What can we conclude from my story?
From what I can tell, there are really only a couple of ways to look at all of this. One is to say there’s still an ideal, national definition of “normal,” and my little extended family living in our three separate homes is truly messed up.
But then how can you explain how beautifully our “messed up” life has turned out? And how generally happy and well-adjusted our kids are in their “messed up” lives? Sure, they have issues and feel sad about things, but I would venture to claim that each of their teachers would say our three girls are among the most well-adjusted kids in their classes.
The other way of looking at it is this: There is no “normal”—at least not in a societal sense—and we need to stop pretending there is. We need to stop talking about it, observing the world through it, and assuming it as we report on and read the news.
Most of all, we actively need to teach our kids to identify the falacies embedded in “normal,” and see through to the other side. And people like Jason and I and our exes, and all of you out there who live some type of anti-normal life? We need to embrace rather than hide what makes us different. We need to prove to the world that what they see as “messed up” can be a very beautiful thing.