I Am Not Normal (But Neither Are You)
January 20th, 2010

Fair warning:  I am not normal.  Sure, I may seem it.  (Or maybe not.  I’m not sure how I come across here.  Perhaps I seem a sheer lunatic.  But I digress…)  Brown hair, blue eyes, average build.  Married, working mother of one son.  Two dogs.  Medium house.  Midwestern.  Etc.  But it’s all just a ruse.  Underneath this wholly normal exterior, I am quite a strange little person (as my husband frequently likes to tell me). 

I bring this up because the other day I was chatting with my father.  I don’t really recall the original thread of the conversation.  (Actually, I think I was bragging to him that IEP had gobbled up barley risotto for supper, which is really neither here nor there.)  But as we were chatting we somehow wandered down the path of “normal.”  Or rather, not normal. Probably because barley risotto is not normal fare for a 14-month-old.  And I spent a little time ribbing him about some of the oddities of my own childhood.   

When I was a child my parents dreamed of having a place in the country.  A little plot of land outside of the city.  And so it was that every week my parents scanned the classifieds in the local paper for listings of land for sale.  Some of those listings would warrant a phone call.  And some of those phone calls would produce an appointment.  And even when there wasn’t an appointment, sometimes we just drove out into the country to cruise section-line roads and scan fences for For Sale signs. 

This is how it came to be that I spent many weekend afternoons of my childhood riding through rural Oklahoma and playing out a real-life version of The Berenstain Bears and the Perfect Picnic Spot.  On Sundays we listened to NPR’s rebroadcast of the previous evening’s A Prairie Home Companion.  We stopped in small-town cafes and ate meatloaf, fried okra, and cobbler à la mode.  We met crusty old men in coveralls.  We listened to oldies on the café jukebox.  My sister and I walked through brush and shimmied through barbed wire while my parents weighed the pros and cons of whatever forty acres we happened to be scoping out. 

It wasn’t until much later that I realized this was all a little weird.  Most eleven-year-olds don’t know Garrison Keillor’s voice by heart.  Most little girls don’t know the difference between a No Trespassing sign that you can probably violate versus one that means business.  Most kids don’t pull into the next town excited to help their dad find the “main drag.”  But I didn’t know that at the time. 

What strikes me about all of this is how I assumed that these adventures were par for the course until my frame of reference broadened enough to understand that they weren’t.  

As children we are prone to assume that our life is normal – that a life any number of standard deviations away from what we know must be the outlier.  Our experiences are normal to us, so we assume they are normal in general.    But as we get older, make new friends, go to college, date, marry, and so on, we become privy to a number of other life paths.  We have arrived in the same place as our friends, colleagues, and partners, but not via the same set of experiences.  And as we share those experiences we discover which aspects of our own journey are universal and which are unique. 

If we are perfectly confident and well adjusted, these discoveries may become empowering to us; points of pride or distinction; or perhaps just privately treasured all the more due to their specificity to our own life.  Or, if we are insecure, these little oddities may be embarrassing; things we henceforth keep under wraps; things that make us stand out when we want only to blend in. 

What I love most about this little premise, though, is that, when you get down to it, none of us is normal.  We share things in common that allow us to relate to each other, to bond, and to commune.  But ideally, we will celebrate each other’s differences along with our similarities.  And we will come to celebrate the path we’ve traveled for the ways in which it formed us.

As for my parents’ plot of land.  When I was twenty years old they purchased one.  Shortly thereafter they purchased adjacent plots.  They built a house, a barn, a pond, and several miles of walking and carriage driving trails.  My old show horses are living out their retirement years there.  My sister was married there.  My son petted his first baby lamb there.  It is a place where time slows down, where people relax, where happy times are had.  It is a place that makes me fiercely proud of my parents, the dream they pursued, and the beautiful reality it has become.

Summer sunrise at the farm.

I am not normal.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


12 Responses to “I Am Not Normal (But Neither Are You)”

  1. Anne Says:

    Well, I love this for many reasons. For the lovely pictures of the farm, for the shared memories of our youth, and for the ideas as well. I love this quirk about us, that you so beautifully captured. I love the idea that EVERYONE has a little “not normal” quality buried beneath the surface. It’s what makes me fascinated by people.

  2. becca Says:

    I love love love this. I think I love it so much because what my husband and I argue most about (I think it might be our only REAL argument actually) is what we view as normal upbringings. I grew up with cut to the chase, no BS, very honest, realistic parents. That’s normal to me. He grew up with a Pollyana as a mom and parents who are both pretty superficial, always rosey, always happy. He thinks THAT is normal. But as you so wonderfully write here, there is no NORMAL, it’s just what we’re used to. I think I need to have him read this post!

    Thanks for coming by Gale… I’m now headed to read your “on the horizon” post!

  3. Shelby Says:

    This is a wonderful story! And, you’re right, I’m surprised by it, and really love it!

    I really appreciate the “frame of reference” comment, as I keep coming back to that day after day. It’s quickly becoming my way of describing and accepting people who (in some known and unknown senses) live differently than me. I also like the phrase he/she “is doing the best they can.” It can be too easy to fall in a judgmental spirit, and I’m using these two phrases to keep inadvertent critiques in check.

  4. Gale's Mom Says:

    Gale, that was lovely and–as your slightly odd mom–I appreciate it. By the way, that attractive ram…his name is Neville, which isn’t too normal, either.

  5. Gale's Dad Says:

    Obviously, your post today triggers a flood of memories, as I remmber many of those trips. But I am glad that the urban sophistiation you have so artfully developed is somewhat moderated by these first hand experiences you had, and somehow have helped shape who you have become. And yes, that “molding” occurs in everyone’s life, fo better or worse.

    But what strikes me even more after reading your post, is that after 33 years of marriage, my idiosyncrasies and Mom’s idiosyncrasies have oddly merged to become OUR idiosyncrasies. And so the family tree grows, albeit with some twisted branches.

  6. johncaveosborne Says:

    the only thing completely un-normal is normal. back in my younger days, i had a self-proclaimed moniker. (no, i wasn’t one of those guys who referred to himself in the third person.) i was a “standard freakshow.”

    glad to know i’m in good company. great post, my friend.

  7. Gale's Mom Says:

    I’m assuming that as Gale’s mother, I’m one of her more “mature” readers, and hopefully that gives my opinionated comments a little credibility. What I want to say is that it stuns me every time I realize what things “stuck” with my daughters, what they remember, what they do because that’s how we, her parents, did it. It’s very humbling. I also want to say how gracious both the girls are about what certainly was not always an A+ parenting job. (I hope they don’t write about those moments for the public.) BUT, I’d also like to point out, that there are lots and lots of people for whom the rural environment is so very normal. It was an abnormal thing for Gale b/c she was, at the same time, attending a very demanding high school and living in a fairly challenging suburban city. And she has a mother who grew up in a town of 2,500 and entertained herself with a horseback ride every day after school. Today, having spent the past 40 years in a small city, I find it presents an uncomfortable incongruity to be both “country” and “city.” Anyway, Gale’s right. And that reply was right. We’re all normal/abnormal and doing the best we can, and we never know what we say and do that will influence someone else. Keep up the good work, Daughter!

  8. Gale Says:

    Thanks, Mom, for your lengthy and thoughtful comment.

    You make a good point. Long rides in the country weren’t normal for me because I was a girl from the city. But perhaps kids from smaller towns would have thought similarly about many of the things that were normal for me.

    We are all doing the best we can. And being accepting of others who are trying just as hard is one of the best things we can do for this world of ours.

  9. johncaveosborne Says:

    now gale, don’t you go referring to your mom’s comment as “lengthy.” stick with thoughtful!

    w/ regard to the topic of city vs. country, i, my friends, fit into both. though i didn’t grow up in the sticks, and while there were more than 2,500 folks in my hometown, i can go from tribecca to Appalachia effortlessly.

    the versatility needed to appreciate such disparate settings, as well as the ability to navigate both with equal amounts of sophistication (as it relates to each environment) is something i’m quite proud of.

    not sure why i chimed in with that, except, perhaps, to say that Gale, you strike me as a thoughtful, intelligent, and versatile young woman, and that tells me that the path along which your parents shepherded you, the one that was contained disparate settings and experiences, was also filled with diversity and love.

    and that, to me, sounds like a pretty cool path. (too bad it yielded such a damn weirdo, though)

    OH, and who’s got the lengthy post now? hmmm?

  10. Gale Says:

    John! Look at you standing up for my mother. What a guy! In my own defense, I didn’t mean “lengthy” to be a criticism. Rather, I meant to imply that she had gone to some effort to offer a long comment. Nevertheless, I’ll be sure that my mom sees your comment and knows you’ve got her back!

    Like you, I go back and forth from city to country. It was something my parents took great care to develop in my sister and myself. Opera one weekend. Rodeo the next. I’ve always been grateful that I was taught to be comfortable in such diverse settings.

    One thing that’s interesting about this cultural criss-crossing is that people for whom it doesn’t come so naturally prefer to see you as one thing or the other. So I was careful not to wear the prep school uniform into the barn, or the spurs into prep school – figuratively speaking, of course.

  11. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    I suppose it’s not surprising, then, that so many of us are drawn to making friends (and even choosing mates) who are like us; after all, if each of us sees herself as normal, then why not confirm that vision by surrounding ourselves with other “normal” folk? But how liberating and expansive it is to befriend those we might initially find “abnormal” – perhaps these people provide us with insights into other bits of normal that lurk beneath the surface.

    Another lovely post, Gale. Thank you.

  12. christina Says:

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. My favorite post so far….

    My little boy got a big diagnosis a few years ago and my husband was struggling to make sense of it and us. He said, “I just want us to be normal.” And I said, “define normal.” I no longer wanted to be “normal”, I just wanted to be “us”. A really good us.

    And we are, now, a really good un-normal us.

    Go different go!