Posted by: stacylynn12 | August 1, 2012

Normal Schmormal

Then there is the most dangerous risk of all– the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” — Randy Komisar

People, I’m 41 years old and I’ve got to tell you something. I don’t know what the word normal means. Can’t define it, can’t explain it. What is normal? The question boggles my mind. Now let me tell you how on earth I set to pondering about the meaning of normal.

Eons ago, when we were off traveling the world with our 4 and 6 year old sons, (yes I’m being facetious but it really does already seem like a distant dream) I followed the blog of another traveling family. Now you think I’m nuts right? These folks are traveling indefinitely from Alaska to Argentina in a veggie oil powered truck with get this… 5 kids. I’m serious.

Anyway, they have taken a bit of flack here and there for their lifestyle choice. Here are a few examples of questions from some of the “nicer” naysayers.

“How is this good for the kids?”

“Don’t they need stability and to have the opportunity to have long lasting friendships, a good education, the ability to participate in extra curricular things that interest them, and have a “normal” life?”

“Do you fear that they will have a hard time as adults because of missed opportunities in a “normal” life?”

The family I speak of doesn’t seem phased in the least by comments such as these but me… well I’ve got my panties in a bit of a bunch over it. No one ever asked me these sorts of questions or really gave us much of a hard time for our choice to take a year “off” but then again I didn’t really openly invite these opinions and well, I’m sure there were those who just kept their comments to themselves. Nevertheless, reading these questions fired me up and I felt a strong desire to defend these kindred spirits.

So let’s take a look at what’s normal shall we? First, let me describe to you how I spent one morning just a few days after arriving home. I awoke at 4:00 am. I got up, made a thermos of coffee, grabbed my rain gear, iPad, a camping therm-a-rest chair and an umbrella and headed to the pool. Yes, you read this correctly. I went to the pool at this ungodly hour – in a downpour I might add – to register my kids for swimming lessons. I’m happy to report that there were 8 people crazier than myself. I was 9th in line. By 6:30 am there were approximately 70 parents huddled under umbrellas, sipping coffee and reminiscing about how the last time they had stood in a line this ridiculous was to buy Grateful Dead tickets 20 years ago. Now, please tell me what about the situation I have just described to you is “normal”?

I have observed, in our American culture, that what is not familiar to us is considered abnormal. In other words, in order for something to be normal, it has to be familiar. Let me offer an example. Before my children were born I had a friend who already had children and she and her husband were co-sleeping. Since this is not a familiar thing to many (read normal) I will explain. Co-sleeping means that you sleep with your children… in the same bed. Someone in our family – who shall remain nameless – caught wind of this friend’s sleeping situation. The response was “That’s weird”.

A few years later as we were preparing for the birth of our first child, I told our family that we did not intend to buy a crib for the baby. “Well where will he sleep?”. The concept of co-sleeping was just not familiar. It was therefore, not normal. As a small side note…. Approximately 90% of the world’s population shares a family bed. 90%!!! Even I was surprised by this statistic and found it to be remarkably high but it came up repeatedly in many different sites. This was the most interesting and compelling article.

http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/tami_breazeale.html.

Even if it wasn’t that high, even if it was “only” say, 80%, 70% or 60%, that’s still enough to make it quite a normal thing don’t you think? Perhaps we should look outside of our little North American box once in a while?

My children no longer sleep with me and Randy but they are currently sharing a bed together. They both love it. Bodhi had a friend over the other day and when the kids were playing in their room the friend asked if they slept in the bed together. Thankfully he did not make any negative comments but the mere asking of the question is an indicator that this is not, in our culture, a “normal” set up. For our children who have been bed sharing since birth it is as familiar as rain in Seattle.

Now back to what prompted this tirade. I’m going to answer those questions that were not posed to me and that no one asked my opinion on. Ha! It’s really great having a blog.

1. “How is this good for the kids?”.

Well, really how is this not good for the kids? During our year of travel our children spent every single day with both of their parents. (Ok, there were two or three days where we were apart, but really, that’s it). This is some serious family time. I’ll be honest with you. There have been more than a couple of people who have said flat out that they could not do what we were doing. And by “could not” they meant “would not want to”. It’s a lot of time to spend with your kids. Fair enough. I’ve already confessed that there were days where I came close to giving my kids away to the nicest looking old lady in the vicinity. But not many could argue that an abundance of quality time with Mom and Dad is a bad thing for small children.

Besides the family time our children spent nearly every day outside. More than a few days they were outside pretty much all day… from dawn to dusk exploring, digging, building boats from driftwood and mud, hiking, eating, reading, resting, riding bikes, designing fairy houses, stomping in puddles… I could go on but you get the point. Whatever your views are on the combination of kids, TV and video games, it is unlikely, I think, that anyone would suggest that more time outside is bad for kids.

While we traveled, the kids were exposed to and learned a fair amount of a new language. They tried new foods, made new friends and had more new experiences than we can count. Please tell me if I’m missing something but aren’t these all good things?

2. “Don’t they need stability and to have the opportunity to have long lasting friendships, a good education, the ability to participate in extra curricular things that interest them, and have a “normal” life?”

Yes, of course children need stability. But don’t kid yourself. Stability doesn’t come from staying in one place. It comes from having a continuous (stable) adult presence in their lives – people who they can count on.

Interestingly, what both Randy and I discovered during our travels is that there was a direct correlation between the ability of our children to be comfortable, even thriving during the frequent transitions of travel and our own mental state. In other words, if the parents were calm, going with the flow and dealing well with challenges, then the kids were happy as clams. When we became stressed, angry or upset, the kids were unsettled and their behavior became difficult. Hummmm.

Now as for the question of a good education. Please.

I’ll admit, we didn’t do the best job of sitting down with our 1st grade workbooks. As a result, Bodhi may be a little behind the 8 ball on things like reading, addition and subtraction. We’re playing catch up this summer. But can you blame us? Who’d want to sit and do repetitive worksheets when they could be out studying natural sciences in Alaska, learning a language in Peru or experiencing marine biology in Mexico? Let’s see, shall we sit and do this ditto sheet or go out and learn what sea turtles eat while swimming with them in their natural habitat?

Travel is the best education, plain and simple. What you can learn by traveling cannot be taught in a classroom. There is no substitute. Reading, writing and math are important too, of course, and you may have to put in your time with the workbooks to get there. But a good education does not require 4 walls and a desk. One only needs a passion for life long learning. If the parents have it, no doubt it will rub off on the kids. What Bodhi missed in the realm of 1st grade academia he more than made up for with a powerful curiosity and a love of learning new things that will serve him well in whatever he decides to pursue in life. And, I’m betting he is still going to learn to read.

Extracurricular activities?

Bodhi missed the T ball season this spring. I don’t think he even noticed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of extracurricular activities (as long as there aren’t too many all at once). Sports are good for kids. But let’s look at the definition of extracurricular activities. They are “activities performed by students that fall outside the realm of the normal curriculum of school education.” Hello? Doesn’t that pretty much describe every single activity that Bodhi and Joshua did in the last year? I rest my case.

I do have to capitulate on one point – the one regarding lasting friendships. Once kids reach a certain age I do think they yearn for friendships. Yet I think of military families who are required to move every 3 years. It doesn’t take long for kids to make friends. They don’t go through the adult rigamarole of niceties and warming up. They dive right in. They find their tribe just like we do. We spent 3 months in Huaraz, Peru. We all made friends there. We have friends there. If we were traveling indefinitely, we would have stayed longer and I think that’s just how it goes in life. You make friends and you move through life. Some of them stick around and some of them become Facebook friends. 🙂

And now for the last question.

3. “Do you fear that they will have a hard time as adults because of missed opportunities in a “normal” life?”

This circles us back nicely don’t you think? What is normal? What is normal for you may not be normal for me. You get up early? Well I don’t. See?

Going off in search of a missing cow, up a valley in the rain only to find said cow dead, butcher dead cow, haul cow parts back to house on donkeys and hang cow meat from the rafters of the house to dry would most certainly NOT be a normal occurrence for anyone reading this post. Yet for our friends Nancy and Carlos who live near Yurak Yacu in Peru, this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day but it is by no means beyond the realm of normal.

I could write a book on the things I saw and experienced in the last year that could not be considered normal by middle class, North American, city dwelling standards. That is the point here isn’t it. Normal exists only as a state of mind. It is a perception of familiarity that brings comfort to those unaware of the possibility of stepping outside of these restrictive boundaries.

It’s a big world out there with all kinds of normal to be seen and experienced. What’s stopping you?

20120716-001622.jpg
We look sort of normal don’t we? Moments after arriving “home”.

Note: If you are interested in reading more about the adventures of the Denning family (those crazy people I mentioned above) you can find them here.
http://www.discovershareinspire.com.
Godspeed Dennings. You are my heros!

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Responses

  1. Hi Stacy: Just a short comment–everyone does what they have to do (or want to do) with their lives and the lives of their children. What’s “normal” for some may not be for others. I see all kinds of differences in my own children’s child rearing ways, and would never criticize any one of them. We did the best we could with our own children as we raised them, and I have pride in all of them and some regrets too. But each and every one of them is a decent person, and that’s all we can ask for. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat–those child rearing years were the best years of my life. I wish I had known it then.

  2. Saw this somewhere recently, “What is this “normal” you speak of? It sounds boring.” I have been enjoying following the Denning family and finding them so inspiring; thanks for sharing.

  3. I am Rachel Denning’s mom (the aforementioned crazy person!) and I have to second Veronica’s comment. Those child-rearing years are the best, though the hardest, years of life and we all do the best we can. My regret is spending so much time trying to “keep up with the Jones'” and not more time just enjoying my kids and doing things with them! As parents, we have our triumphs and our heartbreaks, but true, loving parents make the best decisions they can and hope for the best outcome! My children each parent in their own unique way, and yet each is doing a great job. I admire the Denning’s following their dreams and I believe their children will be more successful with that example than if they had squelched their dreams for fear of not being “normal”. Carpe Diem!
    Very well written!

  4. […] take your family across the globe and back in one piece! Also, be sure and check out her latest blog post listing out the reasons behind her travels – really well […]


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