One of my biggest trigger words is “normal.” Because I have never felt normal. I’ve never fit in. I’ve always broke the mold. Growing up I went to a private Catholic school. We weren’t the typical family. It was a struggle to afford the tuition. My mom ran an in home daycare and many of my peers’ younger siblings were babysat by her. To some, we were viewed as “the help.” My uniforms were second hand. My mom was a wonderful seamstress and so we would hit the resale events and she could easily adjust my jumpers and plaid skirts to be a perfect fit. My second grade teacher told me I would never get my first communion if we didn’t attend church each Sunday, and as an 8 year old, I took this very literally.
I was never really into organized school sports through middle school and high school. I lived and breathed horseback riding. And from the time I got my first pony, I never looked back. Again, my sport wasn’t normal. I didn’t take Advanced PE like the school athletes. I didn’t have school friends that we formed bonds through working on a team. I had riding friends, of various ages, from different schools that all were like me. They’d choose to muck stalls and toss bales of hay on a freezing cold day over a trip to the mall anytime.
I could give a ton of examples like these but I won’t for times sake.
Then I lost Jake and became a widow. And again, I didn’t feel normal. I didn’t fit. I hated the attention. Being in the public eye. Everyone knowing the tragic details of MY loss and his death. Like I had to share it. I passed on a lot of functions, award ceremonies, and opportunities offered to me. I heard from others things like, “when I lost ,insert name here, I did this,” or “when I lost, insert name here, I attended all of…” And that’s fine. We all grieve differently. But I needed to listen to myself, my heart, my boundaries, and again felt as if I broke the mold. Like I could never fill that “police widow expectation.” There goes Jen, doing her own thing again.
And finally, my kids and I are not “normal.” Our family was built differently. Jake and I couldn’t have our own children. My boys needed an adoptive family. And before all of that was even finalized, Jake was murdered. So I moved forward, as I always do, and adopted them as a solo mom. And I am NOT saying this for praise or anything like that. I followed my heart. And our path was not normal.
So why am I going on an on about all this normal crap. Well, to be honest, parenting the last year and half, who am I kidding, parenting since I started has been so. freaking. hard. And it only seems to be getting harder. My boys have developmental delays, trauma, ADHD, I highly suspect ODD and we’ve been through the wringer of hard. Parenting in a pandemic with two high needs boys and losing my mom a month into the pandemic, let’s just say it has been the straw that broke the camel’s back, for all of us.
And I find myself in this constant tug of war of two points of view: wanting to push my children to be the best they can be or trusting in time by picking my battles and realizing the limits of the 3 of us, things will improve and we’ll get there. But if I choose the latter, there is a ton of those overwhelming feelings of not being “normal.” And you know what, you’re dang right. We are not normal. As I look at my history, I never have been, so why on God’s green Earth, would I ever walk a normal parenting journey??
Clearly, that is not the path I have been chosen for. And I have to stop trying to explain and prove myself.
Who am I defending myself to?
Who even defines normal?
Because I’ll tell you this much, your Facebook highlight reel sure does not make you normal.
I have got to find a way to drag myself out of this “not normal” shame spiral and follow my gut WITHOUT explanation because I don’t owe that to anyone.
What I do owe?
I owe it to myself to be true to my heart, my gut, and my boundaries. And I owe that to my boys.
And let’s be completely honest, we are all just making up this parenting stuff as we go along. Isn’t it funny how we thought our parents knew exactly what they were doing? We are just trying our very best to raise happy, kind people who aren’t assholes.
So celebrate and embrace the fact you don’t fit the mold. Laugh in the face of normal. Find your joy and peace in being divinely unique. You are you for a reason. And I am who I am for a reason too. While the days of forging ahead in a society that places norms and expectations of neurotypical people on us are challenging and exhausting, I’m going to keep following my heart, even when I falter. I will find my way back to my path and walk it the best I can. I hope you do too.