I’m currently working on a book about the intergenerational impact of emotions and how they play into who we become, who our parents were and how echoes of generations even before theirs are present in the now by virtue of how we interacted with and impacted one another over the lifespans and generations of a family.
Here’s an excerpt addressing the concept of “normal” and how for some families it’s a non-deliverable piece of ethos:
“A dance of place, of broken belonging. Not just of self, but of generations before, whirling through memory of prairie winds and roughly hewn kinships. Linked only by time and inescapable, emotionally threadbare family ties and circumstances.
Yes, it’s the dance of a chance to feel in step with Normal before it changes partners; and then, without manners or reason, it exits the room. Left behind is the illusion that Normal was ever there. While the generations dance on as though Normal never left, as though Normal ever planned to do more than dance its way through.
And the generations dance on, masking the absence of Normal with their pretense that it is still there among them. And that by association or keeping up appearances, they can collectively fool each other that somehow Normal is still present, and no one’s the wiser or emotionally poorer for their social charade.
I had to hide the knowing that my family wasn’t normal. No one outside the family could know because, as was de rigueur back then, it was every child’s duty to honor the charade of normalcy for the sake of family. I was nearly in high school before I learned other families weren’t normal sometimes either.
This wasn’t discovered through my school acquaintances or even from a neighbor. This awareness happened when I watched the Carol Burnett Show. Through her faux soap prequel to Mama’s Family, I got to see another family’s dysfunction right out loud. There was no hiding, no masking, no pretending about their family’s absence of normal. Just full-on, raw, unfiltered “deal with it” dysfunction.
Way funnier than what happened at home, and a welcome bright light and revelation to someone growing up in the relatively humorless reality of a family functioning with a substantial “normal” emotional deficit. At least that’s how it felt growing up with both a bipolar mother and sister.
Although not diagnosed in other family members of yore, I have no doubt normal was an impossible expectation however much it was desired. Heredity had taken its toll on multiple generations of our family through bipolar behavior cycles, chronic social anxiety and/or alcohol addictions. Normal was what you hoped for each day, but it rarely showed up except when we all aspired to make things as normal as possible.”
Funny how when you’re a kid ‘normal’ is something you wish for you and your family to be so as not to attract undue attention socially. And yet when you become an adult, ‘normal’ is the one place you hope never to permanently go because it’s just not interesting enough or honest enough really. Pretty much everyone is only a shade or two of ‘normal’ and the rest in us is a cache of colorful contradictions, unlabeled aspirations and unpredictable emotional choices. It’s what makes us all human which in the vast scheme of things makes us everything but ‘normal’. Way more interesting even if more socially hazardous, yes? I’m getting used to it – finally!