In high school I had a theory that I was the epitome of average. Average height, average weight, average intelligence, average interests, average hair color…. you get the idea. There was nothing about me that stood out. I was normal.
Not much has changed in the many odd years since then. I’m still pretty average. But I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means, especially in terms of life. What does normal mean? And how do we create a life that exceeds the standard of status quo?
I think for many of us we are stuck in the rut of the vision of normal. You know, TV normal, I guess: a house in the suburbs where our 2.5 children go to school each day and do extra curricular activities in the afternoons; we work a standard 9-5 job; we have a dog named Rover and cat named Fluffy that are as well behaved as our children (even that half of a child); we grow old, put the kids through college, marry them off, have grandchildren we dote on when we’re not traveling the world with our retired spouses… blah, blah, blah. Ok, it’s probably slightly different for everyone, but the idea is usually the same. And we continue on…
Life far outside of this standard can be scary. It may excite some of us, and maybe we dream of an out-of-the-box adventurous life, but we catalog that as a dream and continue to live the reality of the status quo. Believe me, I understand. I am right there with you. When the Husband started talking about homesteading I freaked. What the…?!?! The Husband is not a status quo kinda guy. But I am. Remember? I am the epitome of average, normal, and standard.
After years of the Husband trying to convince me to try a more alternative lifestyle, I took my first step with the choice to begin homeschooling the Princess. It was like a gateway drug or something. Life snowballed into what it is now. Ok. Wait. Let me back up. We really don’t live that alternatively.
For start, we have a very nice house much like you would find in a nice middle-class neighborhood. No alternative energy sources (although we would like to move in that direction at some point), no big farm with meat animals and acres of fruits and vegetables and herbs for self-sustaining food, and definitely, no non-chemical, non-processed, anti-everything life choices. Overall, we are still pretty ordinary although I suspect it has much to do with me still resisting.
But we do have chickens and a turkey. We do homeschool our children. We do plan and plant a garden in an attempt to supplement our processed and outsourced foods. We do live out of the main town areas- no HOA and no Target or Chick Fil A around the corner (sometimes I’m sad about that). Ours is not the ordinary middle class life.
But let me be clear, there are so many ways that our lives and choices can lead us away from “normal.” Take my friend Gina, for instance. She, her husband and her daughter moved to a tiny apartment in New York City. Hers is probably a lot more glamorous than my out-of-the-box life, but it’s not the standard choice to raise a family in the city. There are the families that travel the world; families that go to 3rd world countries to live, work, and aid; families that live completely off the grid.
No matter what our life may be, changing from the basic suburbia life is changing from the idea of normal. So, why is stepping outside of this Norman Rockwell life so scary?
I think a big part of the concern is just simply that it’s not how we grew up. When we look back at our childhoods, many of us are filled with nostalgia and want to recreate those childhood experiences that we fondly remember. I mean, look how completely fabulous we turned out, right? Perfectly well-adjusted adults. Clearly, the only path to that perfection lies with the “normal” life we had as children.
Another part of the concern is what others will think of us. As the perfectly well-adjusted adults that we are, we obviously don’t care what others think of us, except we do. We don’t want people to think we’re crazy for piling the family in an RV and taking off around the country for a year. We don’t want people to think we have fallen prey to the cult of the tiny house movement when we move our family of 4 into a 300 square foot home. We want people to know how amazing our children are because they receive tangible recognition through awards and grade advancement they receive through the school system. We may not admit we care what other people think, but we do. It’s part of human nature to care.
I guess the question is, how do we overcome these fears and concerns to become the us we could be instead of the us we are trapped into. I don’t have the answer for everyone else, but I can share the answer that helped me be more open to the Husband:
Small steps and a time commitment that was long enough to honestly try it, but not so long that we couldn’t go back.
Like I said, my “gateway drug” was making the choice to homeschool. I gave it a year and if the Princess and I were not stupider I would try again another year.
The thing about homeschooling is that it is becoming more and more of a norm than it used to. In fact, nationwide homeschooling is growing at an average rate of 8% per year, (nche.com) and in North Carolina it is growing at an annual growth rate of over 10%. So really, trying homeschooling for a year was a small step away from the norm.
Of course, it was still a step away from status quo, however a small step, but being exposed to my dear friend Dee gave me the encouragement to take that small step. I could argue that homeschooled kids are unadjusted to society and weird and not up to par, but Dee’s oldest son who was homeschooled through 8th grade, then went on to private high school and later NC State University proved every notion I ever had of homeschooled kids wrong. When John went from homeschool to brick and mortar school he had no problems making friends, he was academically on par if not ahead of his peers, he quickly became a leader in his school, and he was very involved in many different sports at the school. On top of being such a phenomenal person where school is related, he is also a beautiful citizen of the world having spent several months in Ghana helping to train a local community in sustainable farming. When I think about John and Daniel who is following in his older brother’s footsteps with just as much impressiveness, I can not believe that homeschooling is anything other than normal. Sure, Dee and Rob get so much of the credit for their inspiring sons, but I continue to meet homeschooling moms, dads, and children that are inspiring, impressive, extraordinary, and wonderful- this is the homeschool norm.
You may be asking what my point is. I think my point is exactly what I said earlier. Find a small step, make a definitive time commitment and try. For me it was trying homeschooling and realizing that while it may be a step away from MY norm, it really wasn’t a step away from THE norm. Not to mention that the longer I’ve done it, the more normal it has become.
One more question I want to pose and attempt to answer. Why step away from the comfort of the norm we know?
This is an easy answer: the potential for a most extraordinary life.
Continuing with my example of homeschooling… I could have chosen to continue with the brick and mortar school that I’ve known and was comfortable with. And had I made that choice, my kids would probably be fine. I mean, the kids would learn, they would make friends, they would participate. But what are my kids getting by being homeschooled that they wouldn’t be getting if they were sitting in that building every day?
Oh. my. The List goes on…. the opportunity to study Renoir in depth, the experience of digging deeply into the study of the human body, a class specifically on mathematics in art, hands-on history learning making cuneiform tablets and a mummy from chicken, a spontaneous field trip to an obscure town in northern North Carolina where the original state constitution was written and signed, the chance to learn about robotics and build your own robot…. And perhaps most importantly, the time to live and learn and play as a family, to build roots and make a history together.
So yeah. an out-of-the-box, not “normal” life provides extraordinary potential that you might never find if you can’t just take that small step.