Every family seems normal to the people who are in it.
I read this out loud to my family as we sat down to dinner. I was met with a collective “really?,” and one skeptical look from J. I explained to them that I’d heard Stephen Colbert say this during an interview with David Letterman a few years ago. They reacted in the same way as when they saw that George Lucas had made it look like Han Solo didn’t shoot first…utter, absolute disbelief.
They seemed so deflated that I felt compelled to explain that this was during an interview before The Colbert Report was launched, and that Colbert had to make light of the situation since his family history does harbor the tragic death of his father and two brothers in a plane crash. What else, I asked, is the man supposed to say????
After nodding thoughtfully, we all went back to our pizza and J started giggling and clapping as if he’d just tasted cheese for the very first time. TGG started talking about how he has had a glimpse into what our future as “old people” will be like. My husband starting a monologue on the virtues of “those tomatoes we got at the Farmers’ Market” and, in the middle of my sudden listing of all we need from the store, the cats started hissing at each other under the table, which prompted J to squeal, jump, say BYE and run (with his hats all askew) towards the basement.
It was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
And then we started laughing. That, my friends, is what Stephen Colbert meant. To us THIS was normal, and there’s no arguing about the point…
Our sense of normalcy gets reviewed and revised frequently. More frequently than the DSM, and that’s saying a lot. There is a lot of discussion for any changes effected on that piece of literature, and no less discussion goes into deciding what we’re comfortable with for the time being.
There have been times when, in the middle of one or another crisis, we find ourselves exchanging looks and suddenly one of us bursts out: is THIS the new normal????? The others, hanging on to any shred of sanity we might have left, have a quick consultation and say yea or nay. Usually we say yea; sometimes we say nay; other times we say F*ck NO! At times the prospect of some versions of normalcy are more than anyone can bear.
The latest normal around here involves a toothless cat that likes to chew on plastic, a Raggedy Ann doll that J plants on a pillow in the middle of his bed every morning, a board that is shuffled to suit his majesty’s mood, a rather significant aphid population that no one has the heart to kill, a new basement clock that doesn’t work and is stuck on 3:10 but that no one wants to take down (and a proposal has been floated for putting a post-it that reads “to Yuma” on it,) TGG’s new habit of explaining movies from end to beginning… Need I say more? Need I describe “normal” any further? I’m sure there are those of you who are wondering how we make it through the day without falling into the closest open manhole.
By the same token, I’m sure there are those of you who are thinking “oh, please…we can top that any day of the week!!!”
My husband’s fiftieth birthday is coming up. In preparation of such an august occasion (although it takes place in early September…ha ha ha…I know…couldn’t help myself,) I e-mailed his siblings and asked for suggestions as to what could be done to celebrate. One sibling said “well, when football season comes around, we can go to a game.” The other ideas were basically traveling along the same line: oh, we’ll see. I had told my husband that maybe we could have a party. When he finally stopped laughing and caught his breath, he said “and who, pray tell, would we invite???” I had this mental image of J, TGG, my husband and I sitting in the clubhouse by the pool, dressed up and eating appetizers. No one, we realized, would pack bags and fly across the country to mark the day, so we have to do this “our” way…
My sister in-law, with whom I don’t correspond frequently enough to make me happy, asked me what we usually would do for a birthday. I was about to say “bake a cake, cook dinner…” and then I realized that I’d barely be scratching the surface with such a response. We conspire. We huddle in corners and whisper giddily, scattering when the honoree to-be approaches. We run at the sound of the doorbell, grab packages and sometimes pile into a closet with a flashlight to unpack things. We hide gifts and then laugh when the person barely misses discovering it. We bring the cameras out to witness the unwrapping of presents, the surprise, the pleasure reflected in the befuddled and then enlightened look… We cook meals around which we linger, drink wine that is savored and give a dramatic reading of the label…perhaps in a foreign accent or using the voice of Donald Duck.
Just like Scrooge doesn’t fully understand the Cratchits’ ability to be happy in the middle of their miserable circumstances, those who see us through the window wouldn’t dream of thinking we are “normal” and yet…
We would probably worry if we didn’t have Mozart, Lincoln and Franklin attached to the fridge door. We would probably feel naked if J didn’t walk around the store with the hats and Slinky. Of course, we thought the same thing about the boxing gloves, but that’s why “normal” gets revised and reviewed and re-invented. Like us, “normal” evolves and stretches and changes and morphs…
The best days are the ones when we, unwittingly, agree with what Stephen Colbert said to David Letterman as we set timers, shuffle boards, replace a faulty Slinky with a fresh Slinky, act as normal as we can be…within our circumstances, of course.