wings and things

No such thing as normal

on December 4, 2012

I have always found the concept of ‘normal’ problematic. As a child I was obsessively anxious that I might be abnormal and would constantly ask my mother, “Am I normal?” She would always reassure me but I still had my doubts.

As an adult I eschew the notion of normal. It is such a bland, boring word and it hardly ever makes sense on its own. Without context, cultural and social, it is a vacuous concept. Quite frankly I don’t like it and it doesn’t like me.

I’m not alone here am I. But normal rules doesn’t it. It boxes you in with its perfect corners. But ‘abnormal’ isn’t a very pleasant word either so it is a dilemma for children when they are measured on such a continuum with nothing in the middle. The pressure to be normal or the same as everyone else is a ferocious pressure and can torture the child/person who struggles with not being able to fit into the box.

If you are not normal in the stereotypical way, you are not abnormal, you are just different, unique, original, maybe a bit eccentric even. So what.

If you are ‘normal’ well good on you!

I’ve always embraced Ming’s various idiosyncracies. When his pre-school teacher informed me, in serious tones, that he didn’t conform, I pretended to be concerned but was secretly thinking ‘yay!’ Hell, he was only 4! When he couldn’t grip his pencil in the normal way, a psychologist was brought in to see him at the school. Again, I pretended concern but secretly thought ‘does this really matter?’ He was only 7!

Now, however, I struggle with whether it is normal for an 18-year-old boy/man to emotionally detach from his father. I have allowed this to happen because my only other choice was to force guilt on him. It has been heartbreaking to watch this transition from compassionate to dispassionate son. 15-year-old Ming said to the doctor “we will never put Dad in a nursing home!” with his eyes full of tears. 18-year-old Ming doesn’t even want to see Anthony anymore. “It’s not Dad now,” he reasons.

I bought one of those mini photo scanners the other day. My plan is to scan the best of hundreds of photos of Ants and Ming that I took over the years of Ming growing up.  I will then organize these into a photo book for each of them for Christmas.

Last night I asked Ming, “Can you reconjure any compassion at all?” and he said, “No, Mum, but I can pretend.”

That is enough. That is normal enough.

60 responses to “No such thing as normal

  1. terry1954 says:

    I think Ming is alright. He is just dealing with the pain of his dad and all of the changes that have occurred in his own unique way. why should he conform now, and become normal????? he is normal in my eyes, and also, what is normal? it is what we allow ourselves to accept

  2. victoriaaphotography says:

    I don’t see a problem with Ming detaching himself from his Father at all (but then I’m abnormal – eccentric is my usual name).

    I understand when his outer self has had enough and he hides behind this facade of indifference. I felt indifference when my Mother passed earlier this year.

    In Ming’s case, I suspect his facade is just that – a facade. Behind the face, there is a loving, caring, sensitive & fragile soul – a son whose love is so deep for both his parents, that he can’t bear to say goodbye (so he pretends indifference).

    • jmgoyder says:

      I worry that after Anthony dies Ming will feel terrible guilt.

      • Susan says:

        I actually think you are right to be a bit worried and as an adult you would understand the possible consequences more than Ming. But I don’t think there is an easy answer! Maybe you could get him to write a letter to his Dad (or, given his generation … make a video or animation or song!!) reflecting on the good times and positive memories he has of their experience together and the love that it is clear he does have for his dad? Even if Ming didn’t want to, you could share the letter (video/animation/song etc) with Anthony and that way any guilt might be minimised later on because you could reassure him that Anthony knew he was loved by Ming and that Ming had expressed his feeling one last time? It’s such a tough one.

      • Susan says:

        Feelings … sorry!

      • victoriaaphotography says:

        He probably will, Julie.
        But that’s part of living and growing up.
        You can’t stop the wheel of life turning around and there comes a time when you need to let him turn around with it.

  3. camsgranny says:

    My goodness Jules, we are both a bit on the “snarky” side tonite….

  4. artsifrtsy says:

    I think it’s normal for him to disengage. I lived away from my grandmother so when I saw her the changes were dramatic, but then again I wasn’t dealing with them everyday. Some other family members did disengage, saying she wasn’t in there anymore. I would never want someone to feel wrong for stepping back. Sometimes the disparity between what they were and what they are is just too much to take.

  5. Julie–I think he is just coping the only way he knows how to right now. Hugs to your both.

  6. Julie, normal is what you are at any given time. We change all through our live. He is normal, as normal as you, as Anthony, as me. Please hold on to that photo book until he ask for pictures. He is trying to cope with the loss of his father and the new role as man of the house. My boys lost their father at a young age. It was so hard on them but I never saw their pain only mine and I wanted them to hurt with me so I didn’t feel alone in this journey and to make sure they loved their father. Funny thing is they were hurting and loving him BUT in their new role as my protector. Their hearts were breaking but they were drawing on lesson their father thought them. Let Ming use Anthony’s lessons. Give him time to come to terms with his new role. Love you dear. Now go give that boy a kiss!

    • jmgoyder says:

      What a beautiful and wise comment. My brothers were young too when we lost our dad to a heart attack and their grief was silent so I understand this. I guess I just don’t want Ming to feel remorse/guilt when Ants dies. Beautiful Ming wants to discuss this tonight – I will give him your kiss!

  7. elizabeth says:

    How sad. I think this is the only safe way Ming can deal with the pain of losing his beloved dad. What is normal for one may not be so normal for another. We are all so different.

    Lovely gift idea.

  8. It’s a hellish age to lose the father you knew.

  9. He has to do it his own way. The important thing is, when he is older and the guilt kicks in, to reassure him that it was – wait for it – normal for him to react in that way.

  10. Sometimes pretending is all you can do! Fake it till you make it and all that. Been there, done that and sometimes it even becomes genuine. xo

  11. Colline says:

    It is probably his way of dealing with the changes that have occurred in his dad. Which is, for some, quite normal. Does make it hard for you to watch though.

  12. I think sometimes for some people, detaching is the only way they can continue their “normal”. It’s almost as if they are grieving over a death, while the person is still alive…if that makes any sense.

    As difficult as it may be for you to watch your son detach from his father, I suspect it’s probably something he must do in order to move on.

    Hugs to you. I am certain this so very difficult for you to watch the two people you love most go through such hard times.

  13. Rhonda says:

    we don’t know what normal is until we are faced with an abnormal situation. there is nothing normal about your situation jules…it’s shit and it changes all the time. the norm is just to keep going as best you can and not get lost. ming’s normal is the same…at the end of the day normal is as normal does. jeez, that sounds like forrest gump stuff right there, but it’s true. normally (ha) i wouldn’t spout such things…but these are not normal times, at least until something more abnormal comes along. i’ll shut it now. love you U…xoxo

  14. FlaHam says:

    Julie, you are a constant source of amazement to me, each day and sometimes more than once a day, you touch a part of me. I have truly enjoyed your posts. Your discussions of normal and not normal were wonderful, and I completely get the conflict between your oral responses and your mental responses when differences regarding Ming have been brought to your attention. And while there maybe differences for Ming the ability to pretend will most likely be one of his most wonderful gifts. Take care, Bill

  15. I’m sorry. This is so difficult for you both. I agree that Ming is grieving now and withdrawing to lessen his own pain. My cousin once told me that she considered her mother had died 7 years before she actually did because of the dementia. This cousin also stopped visiting her mother because “it wasn’t really mother”. I think it is too difficult for some people to see what the parent has become and they want to remember the parent the way he or she used to be.

    On the other hand, I think you should make the photo memory books now as it will help YOU cope with the changes in Ant, This will help your grieving process and will be something to help Ant’s memory too. Later, when he is ready, Ming can use the photo album to help with his own grieving and remembering there were good times. Prayers to all of you.

  16. dcwisdom says:

    I like this post a lot. Yes, you have a new normal, for sure. I can understand Ming’s perception. My brother reacted the same as Ming, not wanting to accept the changes in Dad. I had a friend who once said, “I didn’t sign up for this!” But none of us do. LOVE the photo book idea. Please include current pictures. One day, he’ll appreciate that.
    Sending BIG Texas love across the waves… XO

  17. What an incredible son you have, Julie: someone who realises that this is how we cope, sometimes, and that pretending is a way to cope. Your wisdom in accepting him where he is is breathtaking. I am sure I wouldn’t have the same fortitude.

  18. Cee Neuner says:

    Normal is so overrated!!! We all have to find our own paths and it is even better when someone honors that path and lets you go with whatever!!

  19. Finn Holding says:

    Nearly all of us are ‘normal’ in our own way. Which means that there is, in reality, no such thing as normal. It’s a redundant and meaningless concept used to compartmentalise folk and as a means to beat them up when they’re labelled ‘abnormal’. We English speakers have a name for all that: ‘bollocks’.

    I reckon Ming is just handling the situation in the best way, maybe the only way, he can. He’s only a young guy and must be really struggling inside with dealing with his Dad’s decline. I can’t begin to imagine what kind of basket case I’d have been if I’d been in his boots at that age. And you shouldn’t worry about him when Anthony dies, he’ll find a way to cope, especially with you there to help him out. And he’ll come out the other side stronger.

  20. mrs fringe says:

    I’ve grown to hate the word normal, I prefer typical. Semantics? Sure, but it’s where I am. Ming is doing what he needs to do to get through. This situation sucks for all three of you. You are a good person, Ming will come through this. Not unscathed, but there will be another side.

  21. Speaking as a Round Peg, I think Ming is fine. It’s really a good thing. I know when I went through my H’s affair and got online, everyone said “detach, detach, detach” To me it meant learning to be me, by myself, separate and apart from him. I think that’s a “normal” state for an 18 yo anyway, to detach from his parents, esp. fathers.

  22. diannegray says:

    This is really sad. One day when Ming is older he’ll understand these feeling, but for now it’s his only coping mechanism…

  23. Helen says:

    A little while before Brad died Jess went through a stage like Ming. It was sad and at times hurtful for Brad and I to wittiness. Family jokes that Jess had always found hilarious (even the fart jokes!) would barely receive a reaction. She didn’t want to visit the hospital when Brad was there. She was exceedingly angry with him and didn’t want to talk to him. Yet she dragged her mattress into our room and slept there most of the time. Allana reacted by just going out most of the time and ignoring the whole situation. I always told my self this was their way of grieving before they had lost there Dad. I’m so sad for Ming, but also happy that he loves spending time with you. That is really special. I would be lost without my girls. xx

  24. Ming is young and dealing the only way he knows how, as for what is normal don’t ask me I have no idea I think we are all different and we are all the same and sometimes normal is overrated. What is a shame is that when Anthony passes away he may look back and wish he had been more conncected with him but right now that isn’t something he finds easy to do……… long as you are there for him and understand he is doing the best he can he will be fine……..

  25. I too hate being ‘normal’ yet as I am going through this difficult time I am craving ‘normalcy’. Does that make ANY sense?

    I too am trying to help one of my sons cope with the father that was compared to the father that now is. Different reasons I know, but as mothers our hearts are there with them all the time, to try and help them through the tough times.

    And it is tough times… it is not ‘normal’ times……… or is it?

    Love your posts …. 🙂

  26. I maybe off base here… But maybe normal is what Ming is trying to create. He has maxed out on the “abnormal” of his father’s disease. We all shy away from pain. He is young enough not to realize yet that pain is unavoidable and even in pain their is still precious nuggets of joy that you can’t get any other way. Maybe you two can agree on a minimum level of interaction with his father?

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