Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wanting Normal

Last nights episode of Parenthood was an all time favorite of mine. Not only did they touch on how a parent struggles to tell their child they have a disorder, but they really struck a nerve on what it’s like for a parent with a special needs child to want “normal”.

In the episode last night, there was a scene where the father is trying to get his son with aspergers to get his shoes on for school. His son is fretting about needing a particular shoe when the father is overcome with the desire to sweep his child away from his daily struggles and have fun together.

Being spontaneous, the father tells his son that they’re going to skip school and go to an amusement park where he can ride his favorite roller coaster all day.

Ok, you may be giggling right now knowing what a bad idea this is. But don’t we all want to do this at some point? In the episode, the mother warns that this is a bad idea and that they need to keep to the schedule, but the father’s desire for “normal” makes him push ahead, ignoring his wife’s warning.

Once they get loaded into the roller coaster, an unexpected announcement comes over the speaker, announcing that the roller coaster is now shutting down for the day due to repairs and that everyone has to exit the ride.

So, can you sense what’s coming?

Yep, a full blown melt down takes place as the boy cries out that he was suppose to ride this ride, the boy’s emotions are pushed over the edge as people watching take in the dramatic scene.

The father dies inside, realizing that he did indeed make a mistake, that he was chasing after a “normal” that doesn’t exist for him. He sadly says that he just wanted to have a day of fun and create memories.

So have you been there yourself?

Last year, I remember planning a special movie outing where we were invited to preview an up and coming movie. I planned ahead, even got permission for my boys to bring their DS games to keep them occupied while they waited for the movie. We were all so excited, that is until we pulled up and and my son saw the line wrapping around the building. I quickly switched into “keep him calm” mode as we approached the line and checked in with the movie studio that was previewing the film. During the check in, the staff announced that my boys were not allowed to bring in their games. I explained to them that I got permission ahead of time, but the staff said sorry, the director has made this request and we have to abide by it. Well, that was the moment where my son lost it, he started screaming and running off, while everyone stood in line watching us. I was angry at the studio for this unexpected change, I was embarrassed by the crowd watching the meltdown, assuming my son was probably a spoiled brat and I felt bad for putting my son in this situation, all because I wanted a little “normal”.

There are so many times where we try to push outside the schedule or take a risk with a stressor in order to create those family memories you always imagined having. But like anything, you get burned enough and you slowly learn the hard way that our normal looks a lot different and family memories are created in unexpected ways. I think that the sooner we get to a place of acceptance, the less heartbreak we’ll experience on the way and the better memories we’ll be creating for a lifetime.

* * *

In case you missed it, here is the full episode of Parenthood from last night:

An Expert Speaks: This was on NBC’s site following the episode about speaking to your child about Autism, maybe you’ll find it worth reading.


  1. I can really relate to this. My husband and I want normal so badly but it's just not in our big picture right now.

  2. All of us want normally so badly at times. I think it is part of being a special needs parent.

  3. We are still recovering from the social fallout from an attempt to let my son do something he enjoys. The rules were changed last minute, and there was no way out without an explosion.

  4. Heather, that is just awful, I never thought about the social fallout where rules are outside of your control. I’m sorry to hear that the results were so devastating.

  5. I actually watched that episode. I had never seen the show before, but had heard some good things about it. I was channel surfing and saw it so I watched the last half of the show. I could so completely relate! My husband and I have said quite often lately, "what would life be like if we did not have such drama all the time?" We would love to be those people who post on facebook what a wonderful day of relaxation they are having with their kids at the park on a beautiful afternoon. BUT we are not those people. I guess we just need to realize that what our life looks like right now is our new "normal" and that is ok. If we can come to terms with the fact that our normal doesn't look like everyone else's normal then we can start counting the blessings in each new day.

  6. OMG Kelly... that comment about facebook is SO true. I have a sister-in-law who is constantly posting about what a glorious experience parenthood is and how she is so blessed to have these wonderful children. I want to punch her. Honestly, most days I feel cursed to live with such a mean little kid, having to negotiate my every move and walk on eggshells all day long for fear of a 2-hour meltdown. It isn't at all what I expected out of parenthood and if I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I probably wouldn't have done it knowing what the road ahead looked like. Not that I don't love this kid with all my heart and want to do the best for him. I just didn't think it would ever be so HARD.

    I enjoyed that episode of Parenthood, but was honestly cringing when they did the initial explanation of his illness. Had they NOT thought about it AT ALL before that moment??? Good grief. I was so angry with the dad, who refused to see ANY positive in the way his little brain was wired. Our kids are certainly challenging, but, wow, they have such special creative brains and memories like a steel trap. If we can all survive to their adulthoods, I look forward to seeing what our kids will do.

  7. I know what you mean girls, the facebook thing gets to me too sometimes, especially all the fabulous vacations to Disneyland and such. I’m embarrassed to say that I get jealous.

    But I have to admit that I too post the happy stuff when it happens sometimes. Once a person from out of town that doesn't know about my son’s illness made the comment that her and her husband cringe over my facebook posts about baking with my boys and such and with a laugh she says that her and her husband always laugh at me saying, oh just wait till her kids are older, they won't be so cute and fun. I just chuckled and said that I had my fair share of challenges and try to focus on the good stuff. If they only knew...

  8. So funny you mention Disneyland, Mama Bear. I'm working on a post about a trip we took there last year, aka the trip from hell. I felt just like you--jealous of all the families having such a great time with their kids. The good news is (which I'm also writing about), we just went there again and had a very different, positive, experience. Only a couple of relatively minor meltdowns.

    Also watched most of the "Parenthood" episode and related to it.

  9. I also post the good things on fb so I completely get that side of it. It is a good place to share both good and bad days and we are fortunate to have wonderful people in our life to pray for and support us on all kinds of days. But at the same time, realizing that our reality isn't ever going to be just a simple day spent playing with our kids at a local park. A "simple" day at the park for our family involves hours of planning, and constantly staying flexible so that if things start to go downhill we are prepared to leave. I am really happy for those whose life is not complicated by this illness.

  10. The social fallout was us being asked to leave a homeschool support group. We started homeschooling this year because my son is twice exceptional. And the school couldn't meet his intellectual nor his social needs. But being home with him all day is a real challenge. And to have the rug yanked out on me with the whole "Your son's behavior is not acceptable, don't feel unwelcome, but please don't come back" routine from the group has been devastating. And my son doesn't really understand why he can't go play with these boys he was becoming friends with.

    But I too, put up a good "face" on FB most of the time.

  11. Heather- First I have to say I’m so impressed with you moms that homeschool, wow, I tip my hat to you! I can imagine being told to leave the group was just awful in so many ways, I bet it makes you feel even more isolated that you already feel.

    I do know first hand what it feels like when your child wants to play with someone that has decided to end the relationship because of his illness, a part of me wants to curl up and cry, another part wants to become very unlady like and yell at these individuals, but I choose wisely and put a smile on my face while I encourage my son to find new friends... it really sucks!

  12. Sometimes my husband and I joke about being "real" on facebook, can you imagine the posts...

    "Just pulled a chair out of a wall"

    "Enjoying A LOT of frozen yogurt after crying over my son’s rage”

    ”LOL! Just got called to the principals office!”

    Can you imagine what our “real” life looks like on facebook?

  13. I'm new to your blog but I've been reading it and, looking at it from the viewpoint of a 28 year old woman with Bipolar One, your posts are making me see a completely different side of the illness. They have me thinking of things I usually don't consider.

    One commenter said that they are interested to see what their child will become in life. The idea of what's "normal" for one person not being "normal" for another still applies.

    Some parents gush about their kids becoming lawyers, doctors, business men and on and so forth. Those things are what's generally seen as an accomplishment.

    My mother once told me that just as proud as those parents are, she's proud of me for simply staying alive and not giving in, for being able to stay independent. That's an accomplishment that's hard won because a law student passes or fails while for me it was live or die.

    I think as their children get older the parents of someone with a mood disorder really see that taking a win when and where you can is essential and those wins are just as "normal" and "valid" as the accomplishments of anyone else.

  14. Laddie- Thank you for your viewpoint! It’s nice to hear from those living with the illness, giving us Moms a perspective we don’t see.

    I agree with you that a "win" you experience makes a parent proud. In fact, I am more proud of my son for doing "his best", knowing that for him, it is so much harder for him in some areas then the rest of us. Sometimes I imagine that if I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t be doing as well as he has been able to. I am very proud of my son.