Sitting across the room from a medical professional, I reeled from the words nonchalantly floated my way.
“I said to your child, ‘You’re not normal… Let’s work on that,’” His matter-of-fact manner, as if discovering a vitamin deficiency, stunned me.
Watching all my years of hard work – the careful laying of brick upon brick in order to set a foundation upon which the kid could build a life – instantly crumble like a mobile home hit by a reckless tornado, I wanted to yell, “You said what?!!” But he kept going, as did the kid, apparently neither worse for the wear.
Driving home with “not normal” sitting next to me, I searched for a spot to put this one. Isn’t normal what we all strive to be? Isn’t normal the goal? Isn’t normal the only ticket to a happy life? I looked over at the kid, who seemed to me a bit relieved – as if a ton of bricks had been lifted from his shoulders, and I began wonder, who came up with normal?
Because, quite frankly… who is?
The next day I stopped by another of my kid’s classroom to drop off something for a teacher. My eyes scanned the room. In the mix I saw the learning disabled, the squirmers, the odd introverts, the attention-grabbing extroverts, hotheads, dreamers… basically – the mix. And again, I searched for “normal.” It must have been hiding somewhere in the sea of regular kids. You know, the ones with outside the box stuff. But I couldn’t see it.
Does “normal” even exist? Or is it some sneaky way to shake us off our game. To keep us off balance – always behind, ever catching up? And why do we chase and reach for normal, like grabbing a life-ring tossed to us by the successful parenting Coast-Guard?
According to Philip Zimbardo, Stanford Professor Emirtus and renowned expert in human behavior,
“[Social] norms are the potential “pressure” in situations that: help to define the nature of social reality; form the foundation upon which people base their interaction; and provide a common referent for members’ self-evaluation. By means of these mechanisms, norms increase feelings of personal and group identity.
Norms shape behavior by providing limits within which people receive social approval for their behavior. These guidelines establish an informal basis for estimating how far one may go before experiencing the normative power of ridicule, rejection, and loss of status among friends, acquaintances, and co-workers.”
There you have it – normal exists so we can fit in. And apparently, we’re the ones that decide what defines normal.
Though the definition and target shifts, we all strive to be it. If we – or, even better, our kids are “above” it, we’re pretty stoked and just might not be able to stop ourselves from sharing with anyone who will listen, how special the “above” can’t help but be. If, on the other hand, we – or sadly, our kids, are “below” … well, that’s the worst of all spots. In that case, very little is said, much is avoided and trainers/tutors are hired.
Either way (above, below or even on target… but who wants to be just normal?!), we can’t help but focus on ourselves and thus groom our kids to do the same. Therein lies the danger – self absorption. Which leads to what many social scientists call the greatest issues facing kids these days: an ever-increasing trend toward narcissism. Narcissism, self-absorption on steroids. It’s the words, “I deserve,” “I’m owed,” and “my way” ingested and absorbed hook-line & sinker.
So can we re-boot and make a new normal? One where kids are just kids. One where kids can run and laugh and play and make up games and hang out – without buying into the uber funk that leads every parent to feeling like they’re falling behind or a failure?
Since we apparently decide societal norms – how about reto-fitting just a bit? Let’s bring back regular instead of pumping up the steroids and reaching for fully-leaded parenting strategies. Let’s fight the urge to reach for a trainer’s phone number when our 8-year-old is still looking for bugs instead of weaving his way through the soccer field. Let’s put the Marsha Brady pen down and stop signing up for every club or activity. Let’s take a break and encourage kids to climb trees, run, jump, fall and get back up … and to look for a few things to try that just might seem off-the-beaten-path impossible so they can learn that little is.
I guess I’m glad my “not normal” kid breathed a sigh of relief at the announcement. I think I’m the one who needs help. When we got home, we grabbed the other four “not normal” siblings and went to the Ice House on Katy Trail for a break. As I sunk my teeth into a big, fat juicy cheeseburger, I couldn’t help but notice the retro lawn chairs around our table. For a moment, as I watched my kids taking it all in, I felt like we were throw-backs. And I couldn’t help but long for a retro-“normal”. Better yet, maybe we could get rid of “normal” all-together.