July 20, 2013

Are you sure that's normal?

Are you sure that's normal? Mardra over at www.mardrasikora.com  asks that question in this week’s blog hop. I readily accepted her invitation to participate (ask me to do anything and I will…or almost anything) but in some ways I am regretting my easy response.

In October 2012 I participated in another blog hop that asked that very same question. At the time I was actively seeking full time employment.  The post started with:

However this week’s question “what is normal?” is tough for me. I know I am a “normal” person, a member of the baby boomer generation, with three kids, and still married.  Down syndrome is normal to me, as are college hunts, tennis and rural Colorado. These normals are easy, but there is another scary normal and I am conflicted about sharing.

And then I got on the pity pot…read more at your own risk.

So today when I ask myself – are you sure that is normal? - I can confidently say yes to the following questions.

Is it normal to have three kids in college? Yes for many people it is quite normal.
Is it normal to be nervous about the next phase of our lives - #emptynestsyndrome? Once again I would guess that is normal to many adults with college age students.
Is it normal to send your two soon to be college freshmen to their orientation and miss them so much you ache? Yes and that ache hurts.
Is it normal to feel an immense pride for all three of your kids? Yeap again!

When I continue this line of questioning the following questions are tougher for me.

Is it normal to work four jobs, two working with people with disabilities and still worry about putting food on the table? Let alone four college tuitions? (Did I mention that part about me going back to school to get my MSW?)
Is it normal to live 1,800 miles from your best friend and husband while he works?
Is it normal to be so exhausted every night that you go to bed and don’t spend the last few weeks of your kids' with them?
Is is normal to be so excited about your upcoming vacation with your husband and all three kids (first time in five years) but still be anxious about all the work you will need to do while on vacation?
Is it normal to want stability, one job and to be under the same roof as my husband?

I know the answers to all these questions is yes, yes for me and yes for tens of thousands of Americans. I fear for the families with children with special needs who also answer these questions with a resounding yes. Everyday these families see the services that will help their children succeed disappear. That is normal. Very normal.

I close with the Christmas letter I never wrote in 2011 and 2012.

Every year for the last 30 something years I have sent out Christmas cards, and for at least 25 of those years I included “The Christmas letter.” I have always believed and still do believe my friends and family like to see the latest picture of the kids, as well as learn about our lives. I certainly enjoy updates and pictures, but this year it will not happen in our family.

Perhaps I am being a grinch, or a scrooge, or perhaps I‘d rather spend the $400 on groceries. I have thought this over numerous times in the past three weeks and always come to the same conclusion, what I have to share cannot be explained in words.

I cannot share that we went on a fabulous vacation this year, my plane fare budget was spent going to New Jersey three times in search of a job. Neither John nor I can share that we received big promotions at work, neither of us have a full time job. I was lucky to get some consulting work, but we pay for our own health insurance. We cannot say we bought a beautiful new home, instead we are lucky to still have a roof over our heads. As far as a wonderful new car, Alex and I were in a bad accident on the way to get Courtney at the Denver airport, we are lucky no one was seriously injured, and now we are down a car since mine is totaled.

But these are not important things. What is important is what I learned this year about myself, my family and my friends. In the absence of a fulltime job I spent more time with my kids and my husband. I was able to feel their emotions, share their humor and respect the people they are becoming. I had time to dream for our futures and especially Alex’s. I had the opportunity to meet many incredible people who share my dream for an inclusive community and turned that vision into a not for profit, Valley Life for All.

I learned that mothers worry no matter how old their children are, and in that worry a stronger relationship is built. I learned that sisters are supportive and kind, and only want the best for me and my family. I learned that my first friends are also my dearest, these women who have known me for forty years are the truest. I also learned I have one special aunt, who helped us when we most needed help. Most importantly I learned that although materialism is nice it is not necessary to maintaining happiness.

If I were to write that Christmas letter I would share that I am beginning to become the person I want to be. This was not by design, it was by a recession that has taught me humility and resilience. I do not wish anyone to have to deal with the struggles we have had this year, to fear for their livelihood, and be told over and over again they are overqualified for positions. I do not wish anyone to cry the tears I cried this year, or be told they look gaunt and sick. The world is a crazy place these days, and even as I fear for our future, I rejoice in our lessons.

In my letter I would vow to treat people as I would want to be treated. I will try never to make promises I cannot keep, never to tell someone I will help them and then disappoint them. I will never tell a friend I will help them find a job, or assume I am so important I can do that. I will try never to be selfish and put my needs before those of my loved ones. I vow to always donate a large portion of my income to help those in need, and to work as hard as I can to raise money for Valley Life for All and  WindWalkers.
(note this pays my salary as well as five other people and it has been very challenging)

Yes, what occurred in our lives in 2011 and 2012 cannot be written in a Christmas letter, it can only be lived in 2013. A new year, a new life and many more lessons to be learned and shared. I am grateful.

And that is normal, and hopefully this normal will be different soon, as I am worn out and very very tired.

And I know, if a girl born 20 years ago with down syndrome can go to college in four weeks, life is very very good and normal.

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  1. Oh Such and Awesome Post,
    Thank you for putting your honesty out there.
    And, this may seem odd, but I strongly suggest you send your Christmas letter this year because no one *really* cares about the new house or shiny whatever, your Christmas letter list does care about the blessings you've found and the struggles you both fear and overcome. I'm sure of that. I care and you don't even have my address...yet. :)

    1. AHA - the truth will set you free! Thanks for the opportunity!


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