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Monday, November 7, 2011

Normal (non-political)

A break from politics...

What is the meaning of life? What is normal? These are very common questions in society, often meant to evoke a conundrum with so many answers it is impossible to decide, but that's not what I'm getting at here.

So the words not normal were uttered in relation to my daughter recently. I have to admit that along with the anger in frustration simmering, there was concern and doubt. Not normal to me says someone is beating around the bush about a disability (anything from shyness to autism to psychopathology could be implied) and if that's the case, we need to be speaking openly in order to get the best outcome. I honestly don't think that's what is going on, despite my moments of weakness and desire to consider all possibilities. Either way, my daughter is going to need an advocate and I'm the best and worst person for the job. I wonder if that's why I was able to quit my job at precisely the time she started school?

What exactly was meant by not normal? She doesn't participate or play much with other kids. OK...and? She's happy. That's good, right? Do you know what my Kindergarten and maybe preschool and 1st grade teachers said about me? They were worried and couldn't tell if I was happy, sad or bored. I have often thought if the various spectrums for disabilities were as well defined then as now, I'd have been put on there. Who knows. It was also said that my daughter knows the answers when she is asked. So, again, I'm thinking what's the problem? What was probably meant for her was shyness or introversion (which is totally normal to me!) either learned or inherited from me and to some degree and in some ways my husband. I should put this into context because I myself have a hard time with normal given how different what I like, do, and am is from what is expected.

Normal is loud and obnoxious and in your face- needing to sell yourself to everyone all the time. If you know it, show it; if you've got it, flaunt it. This is The American Way. Morals and politeness are for those the "successful" (this, too, has an American definition) will crush to get to the top. That is what American Dreams are made of. That is the reason we Americans have a certain... ahem... reputation. I guess I'm not normal in that I don't share the view that these types of things are positive. Is my personality a result of this view or vice versa? I don't know. I guess it doesn't matter.

When I say doubt at the beginning, I don't just mean about her- is there something wrong or not? I mean doubt about myself, too. I've spend many childhood years (and a few adult moments revisiting these childhood years) convincing myself I am normal and there's nothing wrong with me. The day I learned the word introvert could have been as valuable to my life as baptism was to my soul. Not to make it sound like it was definitely the difference between life and death; I never made it to that place- but I always think, if this or that were different, who knows.

It would explain my fascination with other countries and cultures despite my relatively "normal" American life- I didn't grow up traveling the world and didn't grow up among immigrants (though I have some surprisingly recent German immigrants in the family, no longer living). I figure there's got the be a culture where I fit in. The Japanese think more of reserved people, not less. And the eye contact thing that could make or break you in American first impressions- that not looking people in the eye respects privacy- I completely get that! Personal space is important. In Europe, quiet people are popular (apparently). When I've gone to Honduras and Peru, I know I enjoyed a bit of popularity. That could have been cultural, but it could have also been that fascination with a foreigner that would wear off if I were to stay or the fact that I was nearly the only gringo who spoke enough Spanish to converse. Either way, it was nice to be noticed and not invisible in a good, "normal" way (if I can use that meaningless word again). Being noticed here usually involves being put on the spot and expected to perform- say or do something totally unexpected and entertaining or fantastic.

And it is with such thoughts that I must teach my daughter how to be like me, but better. Normal and not so much. How to fit in or join in where I can't and not sacrifice what is important (to me, not those American traits above). In general terms, it's a universal struggle, but more so if you happen to have been born in the wrong place.

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