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Telling Tales: What is normal really anyway?

Becky Andrews and Angel Kane • Updated Jan 28, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Does anyone really know what normal really is? The normal I’m speaking of is the adjective sometimes used to describe family life. Growing up in a family of six children and reared by parents who were transplants to Tennessee, it was clear from the beginning that we were not “normal” in the traditional sense.

Recently, I was talking to a friend who described holidays with her husband’s large family as very “Norman Rockwell.” I shook my head in agreement, to which she responded, “You must know what that’s like with your big family.” I stopped mid-bobble and said, “Not quite.” I quickly changed the subject sensing this relationship was too new to expose this nice lady to the disorder I call family.

We – my brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, parents, children and husband – are not exactly Norman Rockwell. By comparison, we belong to the Newman Rockwell family. Newman would be the less successful, more neurotic cousin of Norman. Instead of cozy holiday scenes, this Rockwell family resembles velvet picture of dogs playing poker.

Growing up, I think most of us aspire to live a “normal” life with 2.5 children – this one always confuses me. Where is the rest of that third kid? – house with a white-picket fence and so on. And as adults, this fantasy of normal becomes the metaphorical “Lombardi Trophy.” 

But most of us don’t even know what normal really is. For instance, it wasn’t until I visited a friend’s house during the holidays one year that I realized not everyone’s house sounds like Grand Central Station with people shouting over each other and little insults getting passed around like a breadbasket. “This must be how normal families behave,” I thought.

Memory takes me back to Christmas circa 1987 when my Italian grandmother was in town for her standard three-week winter visit. Christmas morning arrived, and I picked out a small box wrapped up nice and tidy from grandma. Because she was old by my standards and more cantankerous than chummy when it came to gift giving you never knew what was behind that tidy wrapping. 

When I unwrapped the box, I found just that – an empty box. I looked a little confused, and my grandmother said hastily, “What, you don’t like it?” Before I could tell her she must have made a mistake, I noticed a scathing look coming in the direction of my mother, and I simply said, “I love it.”

After becoming a mom, I made it my personal mission to create the “normal” I thought we needed. The harder I tried to make holidays, birthdays, etc. perfect, the worse I felt. I fell short each and every time. I just didn’t have what it took to pull off “normal,” and this made me feel like there was something wrong with me. But maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe there is no such thing as normal when it comes to family life. And this got me to thinking. Is it normal to be normal?

My conclusion is normal is relative. As nice as it is to be around a family where the house is always clean, birthday parties are perfection, holidays are like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, I can’t help but feel lucky that I have the type of family where there’s no holding back.

As brutally honest as my relatives can be, they are just as loving and protective. In one of my favorite movies about a dysfunctional family, one of the main characters said, “We may not be much, but we’re all we’ve got.” That’s exactly how I feel about my family. We’re not perfectly normal, but we love each other perfectly.   

Comments? You can email Becky Andrews at tellingtales@lebanondemocrat.com. Andrews and Angel Kane are the brains behind Telling Tales, a weekly column in The Democrat.

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