Driving home on the M61 at the weekend, I found myself wishing that Abigail was normal. Normal in the sense that she would travel down to dance practices in Stockport on the bus with her friends instead of being chauffeured by me every other Sunday. Realising this was a bit of an overreaction, I began to think about the word ‘normal’. Its definition. Its connotation. Its overuse. And if there is, in fact, such a thing as normal in a world where everything is changing at such a relentless pace.
I know that there are many parents out there who desperately wish for their child to be ‘normal’ and they’re not referring to their inability to travel to dance practices on a bus. They would give anything for their child to be able to walk, see, hear, communicate. We all have a distorted understanding of the word. In the past, I have wished for all of my children to change so that they wouldn’t stand out. I have wanted Sam to be able to grow a fringe, possess an inkling of an imagination, develop a dress sense. If anything, I should have wished for his slight hearing loss to disappear but as it hardly impacts on our lives, except for an annual visit to the hospital, I guess it’s something I’ve never considered normalising. And, as he has no desire to be a pilot, which is something the audiologist said would be not be an option due to his inability to hear soft consonants, we’ve never discussed the possibility of fixing the problem so he could have normal hearing once more.
I’ve obviously wished numerous times for Joel to be normal. I wished, when he was 3, that he wouldn’t run back into the swimming pool naked once his dad was fully clothed. I wished, when he was 4, that he wouldn’t put his hand down his teaching assistant’s top. I wished, when he was 5, that he didn’t go digging for worms when he was meant to be playing football. But that was normal for Joel and whilst I was cringing, everyone else was falling in love with him. So being different was acceptable and even endearing. He walked late. He talked late. He learnt to read late. I’m sure his current school don’t consider him to be normal in terms of his grades. He’s never going to be academically gifted, but he tries his hardest and bounces back from every knock-back. If he had stayed in his former school, he would be top of the class, possibly exceptional. So normal means different things in respect to two educational establishments a mere 25 miles apart.
And the times when I have urged Abigail to be normal too. When her friends had long, sleek ponytails, she was practically bald with a token pink slide in her hair so people would know she was a girl! When girls were pushing dolls around in prams , she would rather collect stones like Makka Pakka. When peers are going to parties, she would rather go dancing (if it doesn’t involve going on a bus!).
And I can recall times when I wanted to be what I considered to be the teenage normal. I hated my long, dark, wavy hair and envied the shiny, straight hair of my best friend at the time. Now that I’ve straightened it to death, everyone has waves. I wanted to be taller. Fast forward thirty years, most shops cater for my shortness in stature and I don’t feel that I’m in a minority anymore. And never once did I feel that my parents wanted to change me. They wouldn’t take away the times when I made them proud. Being told by a stranger in the delicatessen queue in the old co-op what a polite daughter they had. Being picked by Whitehaven School to attend a creative writing course at the age of 13. Graduating from the University of Edinburgh (albeit with the bribe of a car) with a Masters degree. But, probably most importantly, blessing them with three gorgeous grandchildren, all different and all unique, meaning that in my house there isn’t a normal. And maybe there shouldn’t be.
And in light of recent events, don’t even strive to conform. Be your own personal version of normal. And be kind.