After sixty plus years of life, I have recently recognized that life is fluid and ever transforming. Throughout my life, my normal has constantly changed.
Maybe this indefiniteness of life goes all the way back to Eden, when the pluck of an apple altered things dramatically for Adam and Eve.
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word normal as an adjective, as a noun, and as a geographical name. (Normal, Illinois sounds like a town from a Hallmark movie, don’t you think?)
I’ve considered some changes to “regular patterns” that occur naturally.
A child beginning preschool can be a big event for a family. They settle into a new routine. Schedules are arranged to provide transportation to or from school. Then, the child turns five. Now a bus may pick up the boy or girl to go to kindergarten or maybe before or after school care becomes part of the routine. The elementary years give way to the new pattern of middle school and then high school. Soon, Johnny or Susie might be off to college. The parents might be living the life of empty nesters. That’s a lot of change in eighteen years!
Maybe a family’s normal changed when a child received a diagnosis of autism. Family life then might include IEP’s, therapies, isolation, and meltdowns. Learning to respond to the child’s needs becomes a new normal.
People lose jobs, get promotions or change companies. These events all effect the rhythm of life.
I think back the death of my mother when I was twenty-three. I had just gotten my first teaching job and was looking for an apartment when my mom became totally lethargic. My sister had just graduated from college and found a job.
Mom was in and out of the hospital for four months before she was diagnosed with leukemia. Treatment then was not very advanced and we knew her chances of survival were bleak. There was no hospice or out-patient treatment at that time, so she was in the hospital for almost three months of chemo before she died at the age of forty-eight.
During those months, my dad, my mom, my sister, and I sat together every night in the hospital! I would bring needlework and papers to grade. My mom knit while trying to avoid catching her IV tubes in her yarn. She learned to needlepoint, right there in the hospital, and finished a pillow during those months.
I remember one of the nurses commenting that we all acted as though we were just sitting at home in our living room. The nurses found that amazing but that was our norm for those few short months.
My mother’s death affected the three of us differently. My dad and mom were just two months away from their twenty-fifth anniversary. My dad relied on my mom for almost everything except pouring himself a bowl of cereal. (I exaggerate only slightly.)
For a time, the norm was that my sister and I would cook, clean, pay bills, and try to do things my dad had never learned to do. This was not the routine I had planned for this time but there it was. My new normal.
Eventually, my father remarried a sweet widow with two grown sons. Our holiday routines changed after that. New traditions were devised as we gathered for certain occasions with my new stepmother’s family. Our new norm.
I could elaborate on other temporary norms in my life – from seven months of therapy and lack of independence after having a metal rod inserted into my arm, to job changes, to retirement, and to various health issues for both my husband and myself. Life is full of changing tides or what some people call seasons of life. All of these things become the normal for varying periods of time.
Some changes are anticipated with excitement. Some cause us to worry in advance, like wondering how will my adult child ever survive living seven hundred miles away. Or, how will I? Some sneak up on us and punch us in the gut like 9/11 or Covid-19.
Some norms causes me to shake my head and wonder. When did we start shooting off pink or blue confetti or devise plans that have unnecessarily killed people, all to reveal the gender of an unborn baby? And, why is that important?
Some changes come about through a more thoughtful creative spirit, like parading in front of the house of a hundred-year-old veteran or a five-year-old child to celebrate their birthday when social distancing is in place.
When I hear the phrase “new normal” I am looking at it as another change of season. With it will come new experiences, new traditions, new and creative ways of doing things.
Some of these changes will be hard, just like it was hard for some to get back on an airplane after 9/11 or hard for me to regain use of my arm after breaking it.
Some of the things we begin to do will be short-lived. Others will be more permanent.
We don’t know. Right now, I try to enjoy today’s routine and not worry about what will come next.