The Need for Normal

In our current society, there is huge emphasis placed on diversity, equality, and respect for differences. I wholeheartedly believe in all of it. In fact, I have built a career where I coach leaders on how to embrace this value within their corporations. We teach our children that they should be unique, we respect those who dare to break the mold, and we encourage language that avoids labels.

Yet here I am presenting a different angle – the need for normal. I know what some of you are thinking – there is no such thing as “normal”: everyone is different; “normal” as a concept is completely outdated…

Well here is my perspective – I believe that people still have a fundamental need to feel “normal” and to be treated as “normal”. To be clear, this is my personal point of view – based on my own experiences and feelings. In no way am I trying to make sweeping conclusions about mankind. I simply want to present an idea that may cause people to pause and consider a perspective. Perhaps it might even result in behaviour change that impacts lives positively. My only ask is that you read and consider the possibility…

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From anyone looking in, our family is a normal family – two kids, a dog, a house in the suburbs, schedules filled with activities, and a mom who works hard at a job she enjoys.

But if you were to delve a bit deeper you would see the truth – we are not normal – because daddy died when he was 34; the kids were orphans at ages 1 and 3; and I was a widow before age 40. This is NOT normal. Under no circumstances is this normal.

When Brandon died in 2010, my world turned inside out and upside down. I truly lost my soul mate and best friend. And in the shock and horrific pain of it all, do you know what was foremost in my mind?

“I hope my kids grow up normal.”

And at the moment when I was finally able to complete a coherent thought, I made a promise that I would do anything and everything to ensure that they do.

Over the past five years, keeping that promise has meant deliberate actions and decisions on my part –ensuring that they stay in the same school, attending and hosting every birthday and holiday party, participating in all the sports, arts, camps and activities available, taking family vacations, honouring traditions, instilling rules, breaking the rules, surviving the tough days and smiling through the good ones. Please don’t get me wrong – I have done this all with pleasure, with my whole heart, but has been far from easy – I have been mom and dad, good cop and bad cop, I have smiled when I wanted to cry and I have consoled when I wanted to scream.

From the outside, our family is a normal family – we have fun, we fight, and we engage with friends, family and our community.

But delve a bit deeper and more is revealed – we are not normal – my son holds in his tears when dads high-five their boys in the locker room; my daughter has stomach aches in June as her school prepares for Father’s Day; my heart breaks when my friends talk about their anniversary travel plans.

Five years later, I am pleased with the progress of my promise. My kids are fun and wacky and hysterical; they make me laugh and they make me crazy; they bicker and then they have tickle fights; they embarrass me and they make me proud; my daughter has the attitude of a teenager and my son can’t stop karate chopping; they are independent and still enjoy bedtime cuddles; they are as normal as I could have hoped for under our abnormal circumstances.

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And I am deeply thankful.

For I could not have done this alone.

We are very fortunate. We have friends and family that have been there for us through everything; they continue to support, nurture and enrich our lives – My children are included in all the playdates, I am part of an amazing group of women that gets together to celebrate each other regularly, and there are always exciting plans being made for fun family adventures.

I am so appreciative for all those things. And without diminishing their value at all (please never stop), if I am to be honest, those are not the moments that mean the most. Here’s why –Those moments involve me and my kids only; those moments would have occurred (hopefully) whether Brandon was alive or not; those moments are normal.

It is in fact those other actions and events and invitations that signify an even deeper level of friendship, empathy and consideration – those steps taken when additional thought and effort is required, when it would be easier to not do than to do, simpler to exclude than to include – that allow my family to smile instead of cry.

Those are gifts of normal in the moments where Brandon’s absence would have amplified our abnormal.

So I want to take the time now to say thank you:

  • To the dads who invite my son to the ball games and to the car shows
  • To the dads who throw my kids up in the air at the pool
  • To the coach who takes the time to trash talk on the hockey rink
  • To the male friends who tell my daughter she is beautiful
  • To the teacher who cancelled Father’s Day and Mother’s Day to create Family Day
  • To the dad who gives my son a high-five after the game
  • To the men who invite my kids on the dads’ fishing trip
  • To Brandon’s friends who share stories with us about the old days
  • To the neighbor who includes my son when he is fixing the car
  • To the dad who rough houses with my kids as if they were his own
  • To the moms who keep me on track when there is too much to remember
  • To the friends who carpool because I can’t be in two places at the same time
  • To my family who organizes sleepovers so I can have a night off
  • To my son’s friend who stands up for him when he is questioned about where his dad is
  • To my friends who send flowers on my birthday, because Brandon can’t
  • To the families who have invited us to go on vacation with them, even though there is no dad to ‘play’ with their dad
  • To the couples who invite me on couples’ getaways and dinners, even though I am only one
  • To everyone who continues to acknowledge Brandon, even though he is no longer with us

Thank you.

It is hard to be “not normal”. It is even harder to share the pain and vulnerability of “not normal”. It is hardest to watch your children realize time and again that they are “not normal”.

It is also therefore my responsibility to teach my children not to be victims of their circumstance. As Jerry Maguire once said (kind of) – we must help others help us. People do not hurt others deliberately. Chances are, if we (the “not normal”) are excluded, it is because the individual just did not think to invite us. Even more often, there is the belief that they are saving us the pain of feeling different by protecting us from the potentially hurtful situation. So we must communicate our needs.

It is ok to be vulnerable, because friends will respond positively. Share your need to be invited, explain that you would rather decline than be excluded, and sometimes you may even need to invite yourself.

It can be a scary, awkward and uncomfortable conversation, but the response is more often one of relief and understanding, because you have given the topic a space to be explored.

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And this is my ask to all of you that are part of our “not normal” community –

Yes – Unique is good, diversity is healthy, and acceptance of difference is to be encouraged. But feeling normal is a basic human need, the absence of which hurts deeply. That being so, if you have the opportunity to make a positive impact, please do not pass it up. Think about that child with special needs, the divorced dad, the neighborhood girl who attends a different school, the elderly lady who lives alone, and choose to take the extra step. Don’t do it out of pity, do it only if there is no reason not to.

I am not asking anyone to change their lives, priorities or plans; I am only asking you to take a moment to pause, to think and perhaps make a different decision.

My family is lucky. We have a strong network of support. We will be ok. In fact, we will be great. I will continue to live my promise, for my children and for myself; I will surround myself with individuals who step in to fill the holes; and I will work to create a new normal, as normal as it can be.

** Lovingly dedicated to all those who make our little family so grand.


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