Normal?

My oldest son was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy before his first birthday; he’s almost eight now. Caedmon has three younger brothers living at home with him as well as me and his mother.  I have five siblings and my wife has two. Three people have married-in, and our boys have five cousins. Considering all those relationships, we have twenty-five people in our “immediate family.” If that number is expanded to include aunts, uncles, and cousins the number climbs over fifty. Caedmon is the only one with Cerebral Palsy.

We used to live in a small North Carolina hamlet called Highlands, and he was the only Highlander we knew of with Cerebral Palsy and the only child in his elementary school using a wheel chair. Did that make him abnormal? The idea that he’s not Normal is implied in most of the questions we field about Caedmon. But I’ve had to ask, “What is Normal?”

I am the only member of my immediate family that’s 6’5″ tall; am I abnormal?
My sister-in-law, Lisa, is the only masochist who volunteers for triathlons; is she abnormal?
My sister Gina is the only one who suffered a spinal cord injury and now uses a cane and a wheelchair; is she abnormal?
My brother Daniel is the only one whose metabolism is faster than his food consumption; is he abnormal?

Normal is very difficult to define. Eyes can be green, brown, blue, and hazel. God covers people with fair, dark, olive, tan, and freckled skin. People can be tall or short, skinny or muscular, bald or hairy. So why is someone with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, or Autism abnormal? Why not you? Why not me?

Are we sure normal is even a good thing? Consider some of the word’s synonyms…

Average. Commonplace. Ordinary. Run-of-the-mill. Typical. Unexceptional.

Would you want to be defined by those words? Usually, we prefer terms like: unique, exceptional, a-cut-above, out-of-the-box,  extraordinary, or above average. Normal’s boring. Yet Normal is what our society fights to become. Either that or better than Normal.

Anyone who falls outside our view of Normal receives new identifiers.

Abnormal. Irregular. Odd. Strange. Unusual.

They’re all negative, and these are the words that float through most stranger’s minds when they see my son; those that know him wouldn’t make the same associations. But without the benefit of relationship, when we see someone who’s not Normal, many of us trend toward those negative ideas. Why are things this way?

When we see a child in a wheelchair, why don’t we think exceptional and extraordinary? Normal’s why we drift toward the more negative terms?

We have to reconsider Normal. We must embrace our abnormality and call it beautiful. What makes Caedmon unique makes him special, and makes Us exciting.

We all have an image of Normal in our minds and normally, it’s a bad thing. To a young girl with an eating disorder, Skinny Normal is destroying her body. To the athlete tempted by steroids, Muscular Normal is poisoning him. To the child in a wheelchair, Walking Normal steals his hope.

Color Normal leads to hate. Elite Normal fueled the Holocaust.

There’s a difference between familiar and Normal. What  surrounds us becomes familiar, and it’s a morally neutral perception. The danger is when we let that perception of familiar define Normal. That Normal is a lie, and the truth is, nobody’s Normal – we’re anything but.

If you and I can embrace that nobody’s normal, then we can begin to celebrate the majesty of our unique design.

I thank God that nobody’s normal. Not in my house anyway.

14 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your story with others. Wish more husbands/fathers were involved with their kids who have disabilities. I will definitely check out some of the books you recommended. You may also want to check Disability is Natural by Kathy Snow. You’re welcome to borrow my copy if you’re interested.

    1. You do touch on an issue, but it’s more complicated than it seems. Many dads feel disconnected from the start – doctors address the moms, moms get the feedback from the school, etc – and dad feels ignorant. Sometimes that perception of ignorance can cause him to stay on the sidelines, so to speak, because he feels mom knows better. I’ve heard more than one dad express this burden. They aren’t being lazy, and they don’t lack compassion, it’s a misapplied respect for mom and disqualification of themselves. Invitations and encouragement can be a great help with this issue.

  2. So so true!!!! Thanks for writing this….i totally loved it! My sister was born in 2004,the same year, with Caedmon…she may not have Cerebral Palsy…but she is a child…just like your son!! No deference at all…if you lived at the same area,they may be close friends now! If they were at the same school they would have fun together! I’m sure they both love to play..go for walks and that staffs! So….which one is the “normal” and which one the “abnormal”??? Our society stinks so much!!!!!!!!!!
    Congratulation again for your writing….Caedmon is sooooo C-U-T-E !!!!!!!!!! 😀 ❤

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