What is normal?

normal distributionI met someone who never learned to swim. How could that be? I thought swimming was a fundamental skill like walking or breathing. Summers at the pool were a normal part of my life, but the truth is, normal is different for everyone.

My childhood felt normal, but was made up of countless elements uniquely configured to make it my family. In the house we grew up in, my brother and I each had our own rooms. There were trees to climb in, and places to build blanket forts. We watched our favorite programs on three TV channels, and went to drive-in movies in the summer. Most of our relatives lived in town and we had big holiday cookouts in the back yard with cousins running everywhere. We rode our bikes to friend’s houses, and walked to school. I played the piano. We rang a cow bell to tell my brother it was time to come in for dinner. Our vacations were often camping trips with gourmet menus. We’d spend Christmas Eve standing on my aunt and uncle’s porch singing “Joy to the World” at the top of our lungs to get them to open the door.

Of course there are lots of things from my childhood that now seem so ancient and quaint as to no longer seem normal. Slide rules, transistor radios, record players, phones with rotary dials, paper maps. The utter absence of computers or wi-fi access chills my children’s blood, I think. It’s hard to explain how we survived those pre-historic days, what with fighting the dinosaurs and all.

But our normal evolved to become the normal our kids grew up with. Books at bedtime, day care, play dates, Friday night movie and pizza, a computer at home, summer camp, and flying to visit family. Both parent working, moving to another state, and hosting a number of exchange students. Our kids attended the schools where my husband taught, and ran with the cross country team he coached. I’m sure it felt normal to them because it was all they knew.

Once at school our son’s class was sharing their birthday traditions; when it was his turn he said, “On my birthday, I dress up and go door to door in the neighborhood begging for candy.” I can imagine the confused expressions before he said, “My birthday is on Halloween!”

What is familiar becomes comfortable; we build on it, hold it dear, and it just feels right. Reinforced and repeated over the years, it becomes what we’ve always done. Our normal.

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