January 24, 2012

What is normal?

Normal for V and Normal for B.

At playgroup, a fellow mom gestures to Victoria and remarks with amazement, “She’s standing!” Yes, she takes a few steps too. (Victoria obliges with a small demonstration.) “How old is she again? Only 9 months? That’s advanced!

At the bus stop while we're waiting for Bertrand, a neighbor with a boy Victoria’s age asks, “has she started soft solids yet.” What do you mean? She says, “like mashed bananas.” She eats her own kid’s meals. She loves bacon! “That's advanced!
These examples are just within the past 24 hours. Since she was a couple weeks old, perfect strangers have come up to remark to us how “advanced” Victoria was, from head control, alertness & expression, to now walking, self-feeding & signing.

This was new to us. For a while we figured that telling parents that their child was “advanced” was the new “cute”. Then it started happening frequently enough, that I started to get a bit paranoid & typically self-recriminating. “What if I am accidentally giving her physical therapy instead of playing like a *normal* parent?!” And, then, at some point, I finally stopped caring.

She’ll be okay.

Before Victoria, we didn’t say that Bertrand had delays, special needs, or special powers. Other kids were just “normies”. Depending on the context, I could use the term matter-of-factly or spit the epithet like a slur. Now, even in light of her 9 month-old “accomplishments”, Victoria classifies as a “normie” to us.

Even though we, her loving parents, mean no harm by it, words have power. Perhaps we shouldn’t be using the word “normie” in front of Victoria or to refer to her? Much like other loaded words, I’d rather postpone the discussion as long as possible. But in order to communicate effectively, we need accurate words. How do we describe her brother? Other children ask all the time. Should we just learn to accept the “special needs”, “developmentally delayed” or “disabled” labels, even though they all fit like an itchy burlap sack? They fail at being accurate. They don’t capture all that Bertrand is. They just capture what he is not. How is “normie” any different?

We can all agree, Bertrand isn’t the poster child for normal. But, apparently, neither is Victoria. I wouldn’t call Matthew or myself normal either. (Although perhaps the man with a Star Trek table in his office would beg to differ?)

What is normal anyway?


  1. You have two amazing and beautiful children. They are not "normies", disabled, developmentally delayed, etc. They are Victoria and Bertrand! Just as a homeschool mom, when my children are asked what grade they are in I won't allow them to answer with a "grade level". I explain to them that they should start a conversation about all the wonderful things they are studying at the time. Enjoy every minute of those precious gifts you have.

  2. Humans are endlessly comparing. It seems like we have to sum up everything in just one or a few words. --Even people, almost like we could ever possibly label someone like a soup can.

    I guess there's no true way around it, because words are so symbolic and imprecise and our human addiction to defining everything just so overwhelming. So I suppose it isn't that you should never give in to that inclination to label, but simply to choose your labels so that they allow yourself, your husband, and your children as much freedom as they need to be exactly who they are. :)


  3. Ha, well said. we are definitely not normal, nor would I want to be described that way. miss meggie ltterally ran 9 steps rather than taking the first wobbly few at 9 months ( and never stopped running for three years so watch out!) Ava of course is still not walking but it is hard not to see the person she is. While we worry a lot about the disability often she is just a regular little girl that communicates and plays on different level. Meggie accepts her just as her sister and rarely asks why she is different. Just as Ava accepts Meg how she is too.