Sunday, February 9, 2014

Being Normal

Paul had his most recent surgery last week. It was a "routine" procedure involving the rods in his back needing to be extended to match his growing body. Fortunately everything went well and Paul is home resting and recovering from this latest experience. Aside from the physical pain and discomfort that Paul feels every six months when he has this "routine" surgery, there is also the emotional pain that creeps its way back into his heart and mind... 

"Why do I need to have back surgery every six months?" 

"Why was I born with this problem?" 

"I hate having surgery every six months!" 

"Why can't I just be normal like everyone else?" 

Needless to say, hearing these words hurt almost as much as the pain we feel when we wait for hours during Paul's surgeries. Granted, Paul is "normal" in so many other ways for a boy his age - he is obsessed with Minecraft, he loves eating chicken fingers, he thinks farting noises are funny, he hates doing homework, he can tell you the most random and obscure facts about Star Wars and Marvel (especially the villains - this kid LOVES all the bad guys) and he loves playing video games! Is he a "normal" nine year old? Yes but every six months or so, he is reminded about how different he is from most other nine year olds in his world and all he craves is a bit of normalcy.

In considering this idea of "normal," I think of the many children in our schools who just want to be normal - these children don't want to stand out; they don't want to be unique; and they don't want to be special but instead, they want to be normal. The child who is impacted by a reading disability and only craves to read the same books as his classmates but can barely navigate the first page. The child who has trouble fitting in socially and all she wants is to be accepted by certain peers who are so wrong for her. The child who is impacted by severe allergies and all he wants is to sit at the same lunch table as his classmates and enjoy the same meals. We know these kids because they are present in every one of our classrooms, schools, districts and lives. We also know these kids because we may have been them at one point in our own lives - just wanting to be normal! Wanting to fly under the radar and go unnoticed like every other normal person.  

So, how do we treat these kids who want to be normal? How do we respond to them when they are struggling and expressing their frustrations? I don't know about you, but I generally respond by pointing out what makes them special and spotlighting all their strengths. In school we might provide a student with intensive services in the area of need. Or we might have them spend time with the school psychologist or guidance counselor to work through their issues. Whatever the situation, we try hard to make things better - not necessarily normal though. 

Well, today, in talking to my son, I realized he didn't want to hear about all the things that make him perfect and special in my eyes. Instead, he just wanted to hear that it was ok to feel the way he feels and that being normal isn't such a bad thing. And you know what? He is right - there are plenty of times in my life where I just wished things could be normal and uneventful... maybe even somewhat boring. In the end, I realized how lucky we are that Paul verbalizes his feelings and expresses his desire to be normal. So, in the future, I will thank him for sharing his thoughts with me and instead of trying to make him feel special, I will acknowledge his need to be normal and do my best to treat him like every other "normal" person. 

I am not sure what this looks like in school... maybe we let that struggling reader tackle the grade level text if that is what makes him feel normal for a little while even though we know he may not comprehend the content. Maybe we let that young lady who wants to fit in sit with that clique at lunch if that makes her feel normal, even though we know she may get hurt in the end. Don't get me wrong - I know that every child is incredibly special in some way but I have come to realize that maybe sometimes letting them feel normal might be necessary. Maybe if we let our kids feel normal some of the times, they will come to realize for themselves what makes them unique and special and then they won't be so interested in being normal.        


  1. I am blessed to have you as a friend and Paul is blessed to have you as his dad!!

  2. WOW, Tony! This was a great way to start my Monday morning. Thank you for sharing. Your last paragraph is my favorite and it will be my "take away" from your post. I will keep this thought of the desire to feel "normal" as I go about my day. Excellent food for thought and I bet it's exactly how our kids feel!

  3. As painful as it is to hear and witness my son going through all these emotions surrounding his surgeries and his condition(s), it is absolutely normal for him to feel the way he feels. And it is my job as his mom to make sure he lives as normal a life as possible. I have the most incredible son in the world. And every child deserves to feel the way they feel. We, as adults, have to let them have their feelings but also protect them, too.


  4. Tony...Completely different scenario - but this post about being normal made me think about Auggie from Wonder, how he saw himself as ordinary, and wanted others to see him as, just ordinary...and then my own children when I celebrate their traits that make them unique, yet as my oldest said to me one time, please don't, he just wanted to be like his friends. As much as I think it is wonderful to celebrate what makes us unique, I think it is also important to let our children feel like they have a commonality with their peers....and yes, Kelly, letting them have their feelings.

    Love that you share little pieces about Paul. He clearly has some extraordinary role models in his life.

  5. As an adult I can firmly say that "being normal is overrated"...but even I remember the craving many years ago to have a normal name so I totally understand the need to want to be "normal". This is such a great post, Tony. Thanks for daring to be different and sharing your personal story. :)

  6. There are many challenges in this world that affect the balance that each one of us needs, so allowing feelings to surface and honoring their reality is a pathway to finding a "new normal" approach to living. Thank you for sharing a compassionate piece of writing.

  7. Tony, Thanks so much for sharing! As Gwen, this post made me think of Wonder, the book that I read because of your recommendation (thank you!). I appreciate you and your insights that help me become a better person!

  8. Hey Pal,

    Great piece -- and glad to see your son has a bit of Auggie in him!

    That balance between protecting and overprotecting students who are struggling is a tough one. You figured out the key, though: We need to take our cues from our kids. They're more perceptive than we give them credit for. They also have a good sense for what they can -- and can't -- handle.

    Rock right on,