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“Is that normal?”

“Yes,” I replied, after taking a bit longer than a second to consider my answer.

I had tapped him on the shoulder after he sat down in front of us and explained that I couldn’t promise my son wouldn’t kick his seat, that I would do all I could to prevent it, but that my attempts to thwart the movements of exuberant 8-year-old legs stuck between airplane seats and controlled by a mind without an excess of impulse control were not always successful.

His was a funny response, I thought.

“Is that normal?”

It got me thinking about how much room there is around that word.

What’s normal for me isn’t what is normal for you. We are all normal. And we have little to no idea how each of us struggles to stay within range of what our utmost capacity to be that is.

It’s quite normal for me for my son to kick the seat in front of him because I’m used to it. I’m also used to being on high alert about it, to watching his every movement, gesture, and facial expression so that I can try to predict what may be coming next. Most parents think a step or two ahead to try to avert disaster. I try to think five or six steps ahead. That’s my normal. My contingencies have contingencies and my backups have backups. But sometimes, none of it works, or I drop the ball and don’t think of something, I don’t remember an item in my arsenal of objects designed to ward off boredom or hunger or God knows what I’m not even seeing and hearing, and a meltdown occurs. Sometimes, I just flatout fail as a parent. Sometimes I fail as a human. We all do. And that’s normal.

My sweet and wise therapist friend says, “If someone can do good, they will.” I think she is so right about that. No one really wants to do less than they can. But we don’t always know what is possible just by looking at another. I don’t know what the man in the seat in front of John Henry is going through or what his experiences are that would make him respond in such a, for me, less than sensitive way. I am not walking around in his shoes, so when I really wanted to go off, for a second, about how insensitive he had been to us, I just ignored it and moved on. I tended to the more important matters and silently noted, when I looked out the window, that it was a gorgeous morning and that I was living in a perfect moment. Sometimes what is normal is absolutely extraordinary.

We all have our things. Find someone who you think is perfectly adjusted and you’d probably be surprised to find out that they save the lint from their navels in little plastic bags and store them in the freezer. I don’t know where that just came from and now you know how abnormal I am for having even thought that thought, much less admit to you that I had it. But really. You might be horrified to find out what their habits are when they aren’t being watched, or when they’re triggered, or when they’re tired, scared, or even just hungry. There is no normal template. If autism has taught me anything for sure, and I’d known plenty of outliers long before I realized it had ever touched my life, it’s that we’re all flying like bats out of hell around the ever expanding and contracting edges of what is supposed to be acceptable — sometimes we’re closer to it than other times, but no one hits the center. Ever.


Happy Monday, Y’all.