There Are No Normal Families

If there are any normal families, I don’t want to meet them. Last week, I spent a lot of time with my favorite families. A hundred moments reminded me that the reasons I love them lie in their quirks.

We set up the nativity scene at my parents’ home, and my husband insisted that the camels would have been total bros with baby Jesus. He put them right up front with Mary and Joseph, and shoved all the “wise dudes” to the side. I’ve always found a special once-a-year peace in composing that scene, and have always arranged it in a very specific way… but in over twenty years, yesterday was the first time the nativity scene has made me laugh.

In middle school, all I wanted was to be normal. The worst thing my father ever did was pick me up at the end of classes wearing teeny tiny red running shorts. I’d spot him standing outside his Ford truck, stretching. As my cheeks flushed and I scurried over, hoping no one would see him, he always made a point of calling my name. “Jenn! Jenn! Over here!” Meanwhile, all the other kids stared at him… and his thighs… and I heard about it so much I started riding the bus. Definitely not normal.

But yesterday, as I sat and talked with my dad, we meandered through the fantastic journeys his mind-numbing pain medicines take him on these days. He filled me in on his recent adventures – Loading lumber on barges! Wrangling horses! – and I just nodded, and asked questions, and listened. In his drug-induced hallucinations, my father is clearly a rugged man, and I can only appreciate that there was once a time when he sported a perm and miniscule nylon shorts. I’m glad he’s been here long enough for me to see him go through multiple iterations of self – self is all that matters, normal be damned.

Over the weekend, I saw snow. I snuggled on the big beige couch at my in-laws’ mountain cabin, content in the knowledge that my apple and sweet potato pies were done to perfection. Cooking for a married-into family of picky Italians can induce fear in the most stalwart of Southern bakers, but I had made it through. Relaxing, I listened to the sounds of my newest family members milling about as they worked on turkey, potatoes, and cranberries.

“What the frick are you doing, Mom?!” … “No, the baby won’t like the meat that rare.” … “I’m buying a juicer, right now!” Wait, let me really put you in my seat for this show: Raise the volume of these exchanges to shake the timbers, insert the visual element of eye rolls and behind-the-back grimaces, and add the knowledge that everyone’s been drinking since 11:00 am. Then remind yourself that these people genuinely love each other more than just about anything on earth, and be glad you’ve expanded your quiet Scottish sensibilities of what family means. Walk into the dining room, swig a little fortifying wine, and add your voice to the strangelyΒ  harmonious cacophony.

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32 responses to “There Are No Normal Families

  1. THAT was spectacular! I am both warmed and chastened by your giant ability…no, choice, to accept beyond your experience. Your hubby is one seriously fortunate bloke, respect man. Thanks for that Jen, love yer work, as per. Rd

    • Thanks! I love baking (the preciseness just works for me) and my husband loves cooking (he’s a free-form, throw it all together kind of guy). It’s a tasty combination. And I’d agree with you about there being no real “normal,” although stability is a concept I can get behind.

    • I really can’t even conceptualize it. The most fascinating things about people and families are when they choose to be traditional and when they choose to let their freak flags fly, and how it all mixes together!

  2. I’m happy to finally understand how pointless “normal” would be. Growing up with Leave It To Beaver I was burdened with “normal” – something neither myself or my family was, but we pretended to be. Now the thought of encountering a normal family sends shivers up my spine – that would be more like paranormal πŸ™‚

    • Oh, no! “Burden” is the perfect word, though. I don’t think my family growing up tried to be normal as a unit, but as individuals a lot of us were pretty focused on being what we thought we were supposed to be, instead of what we wanted. I’m so happy you (and I!) moved past it. You’re right – “normal” is creepy to the max! All I can envision is something from the Stepford Wives.

  3. It’s so true: the older I get the less normal things look. And, that’s ok. I always wanted a normal family too. Mine was so far from it! I wanted my kids lives to be “normal,” but alas… I’m not, so it’s not. That said, I think it’s overrated. I agree, I love the quirks.

  4. Ciao! I loved this! No normal families for me, I’m not normal myself hehe. I’d loooooove a piece of those pies! They look so gorgeous!

    And nice to meet you! This is the first time that I traveled to your blog. and this was the perfect post to start with. πŸ™‚

    • Welcome, lovely! Thrilled to have you, and if there were a way to reach through space and time to feed you pie, I’d do it. (It’s the Southerner in me.)

      I’m looking forward to playing more on your dragon-filled blog – and huge congrats on getting your book project funded!

      • Hiii!! *waves* Ohh wouldn’t it be awesome if we could share food through space and time? I’d be sharing cupcakes all the time!

        I’ve made a note (aka put you on my to stalk list) to browse your site a bit better as soon as the book is illustrated. The upcoming 2-3 days are going to hectic, but I wanted to say thank you for the warm welcome! *twirls*

  5. Jennie, I’ve always believed that normal = boring, so I’ve avoided it. Just ask my sisters! πŸ™‚ Give me a family such as yours, full of life any day. And as one Southern baker to another, I must say that your pies look spectacular. ~Terri

  6. Your family gatherings sound absolutely perfect. Laughter, drinking, bickering, reminiscing, and making up at the end of it all… fantastic. THIS is what family is!

    • I’m learning that! My blood family is wonderful, but there are simply less of us and so our lovable madness is kept to a minimum. My in-laws are many and boisterous! And I’m finding out things like how freeing it is to have relatives who are sometimes imperfect, sometimes angry, sometimes over-the-top… because it means I can be too, and can know I won’t be loved any less for it.

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