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Collection II
Volume III, Unit 9
by Kathryn Holmes

Being Normal

Being Normal  audio! (Volume III. Unit 9)
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Being Normal

My family is so weird.

Just a cursory"My family is so weird. Just a cursory look at the situation will show you what I mean." look at the situation will show you what I mean. For one thing, my parents like being inconspicuous"... my parents like being inconspicuous. I keep telling them that every other family in the neighborhood does something off-the-wall at least once a week, just to keep the rest of the block on its toes.". I keep telling them that every other family in the neighborhood does something off-the-wall at least once a week, just to keep the rest of the block on its toes. Our next-door neighbors throw raucous"Our next-door neighbors throw raucous parties every Tuesday night, and by midnight everyone is always twisting this sinuous snake-dance on the front lawn, wearing tutus and togas and Elvis wigs and plaid pajama pants." parties every Tuesday night, and by midnight everyone is always twisting this sinuous"Our next-door neighbors throw raucous parties every Tuesday night, and by midnight everyone is always twisting this sinuous snake-dance on the front lawn, wearing tutus and togas and Elvis wigs and plaid pajama pants." snake-dance on the front lawn, wearing tutus and togas and Elvis wigs and plaid pajama pants. And my friend Jody’s mom has this ingenious"And my friend Jody's mom has this ingenious bullhorn device that she uses to wake up everyone on our street at the same time." bullhorn device that she uses to wake up everyone on our street at the same time. The best part is that you never know when she’ll use it! Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson burn down some part of their house in a lab-experiment-gone-wrong conflagration"... Mr. and Mrs. Johnson burn down some part of their house in a lab-experiment-gone-wrong conflagration every couple of weeks. I could feel their last explosion from my bedroom, eight houses away!" every couple of weeks. I could feel their last explosion from my bedroom, eight houses away!

I’ve tried and tried to get my parents to do something—anything—as cool as any of that, but they refuse. They’re totally incorrigible"I've tried and tried to get my parents to do something—anything—as cool as any of that, but they refuse. They're totally incorrigible.".

My siblings are even worse. My twin sister Louise is so obnoxiously well-behaved, exacting and scrupulous"My twin sister Louise is so obnoxiously well-behaved, exacting and scrupulous. She does her homework in indelible black ink, and will rewrite an entire essay if she makes one wrong mark.". She does her homework in indelible"My twin sister Louise is so obnoxiously well-behaved, exacting and scrupulous. She does her homework in indelible black ink, and will rewrite an entire essay if she makes one wrong mark." black ink, and will rewrite an entire essay if she makes one wrong mark. When I showed her recently how I do my assignments by cutting out one letter at a time, like a ransom note, she acted all supercilious"When I showed her recently how I do my assignments by cutting out one letter at a time, like a ransom note, she acted all supercilious, looked down her nose at me and said, 'You aren't really going to turn that in, are you?' ", looked down her nose at me and said, “You aren’t really going to turn that in, are you?” Louise’s room is always neat and organized, and she hates getting dirty. The last time I invited her to join me on a hunt for buried pirate treasure in the woods behind Jody’s house—and I know the treasure is there, because Jody’s mom told me she buried it herself—Louise didn’t even want to go! I tried to tell her that the path to the treasure wasn’t too overgrown, winding or tortuous"I tried to tell her that the path to the treasure wasn't too overgrown, winding or tortuous, and that there wasn't that much mud or poison ivy, but she said she'd rather stay home and read.", and that there wasn’t that much mud or poison ivy, but she said she’d rather stay home and read. What a weirdo.

Then there’s my little brother, Sam. You know how most kids react with rancor"You know how most kids react with rancor, kicking and screaming when you tell them they can't do or have something they want?... ripping the heads off all your dolls and burying them in the sandbox, right?", kicking and screaming when you tell them they can’t do or have something they want? If you’re lucky, they’ll even demonstrate their depravity"If you're lucky, they'll even demonstrate their depravity by doing something awesome like ripping the heads off all your dolls and burying them in the sandbox, right?" by doing something awesome like ripping the heads off all your dolls and burying them in the sandbox, right? Well, not Sam. If you say “no” to him, he’ll just nod, give you an incandescent"If you say 'no' to him, he'll just nod, give you an incandescent smile that lights up his whole face, and go sit quietly and read." smile that lights up his whole face, and go sit quietly and read. I wish Sam was more like Jody’s little brother, Winston. That Winston, he’s so dilatory"That Winston, he's so dilatory that their family is late to everything! But Sam shows up exactly when he's supposed to, dressed and ready to walk out the door." that their family is late to everything! But Sam shows up exactly when he’s supposed to, dressed and ready to walk out the door. It’s disgusting.

Now, I don’t mean to be superficial or glib"Now, I don't mean to be superficial or glib about this issue, but how am I supposed to love my brother and sister or venerate my parents if they insist on acting so crazy?" about this issue, but how am I supposed to love my brother and sister or venerate"Now, I don't mean to be superficial or glib about this issue, but how am I supposed to love my brother and sister or venerate my parents if they insist on acting so crazy?" my parents if they insist on acting so crazy? It’s awful being the only normal person in this family.

I knew I had to find a way to make my family realize how weird they are, and how much more fun they could be having if they just acted like everyone else we know! So I took matters into my own hands. To start, I decided to spend a day acting just like them. I woke up and put on jeans and a T-shirt, even though it was “Dress Like Your Favorite Breed of Skunk Day” at school. This was a big sacrifice, by the way; I’d had my Western Spotted Skunk costume picked out for weeks!

Then I went downstairs and asked for cereal for breakfast. My mom turned around and blinked at me. “You don’t want your usual?” she asked.

My usual is pancake-wrapped hot dogs with a side of chocolate ice cream topped with orange marmalade. I flambé the whole thing just long enough that the ice cream gets soft and the pancakes get nice and crispy. It’s delicious! But in the bizarro-world that is my family, everyone eats cereal and toast. “Just cereal,” I said to Mom. “And a glass of orange juice.”

When I got home from school that day, I did my homework at the kitchen table, even though I usually study on the roof. It was hard to read about eminent"When I got home from school that day, I did my homework at the kitchen table, even though I usually study on the roof. It was hard to read about eminent, important figures in world history without the wind blowing my hair and papers around, but I did my best.", important figures in world history without the wind blowing my hair and papers around, but I did my best.


I'd had my Western Spotted Skunk Costume picked out for weeks!
Illustration by Teresa Murphy

Dad walked by at one point and did a double-take. “Something wrong with the roof?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said. “Louise always works here. I thought I’d try it.”

“Hm,” Dad said. “Is that so?” But he didn’t ask me anything further. In fact, the whole family let me go the rest of the day without commenting on how strange I was acting. I went to bed feeling pretty depressed. Was my plan backfiring? What if they were just happy that I was adopting their freaky ways? I went to sleep and had nightmares about having to live as a boring outcast for the rest of my life.

But the next morning, when I asked for plain cereal for breakfast again, Mom put the back of her hand to my forehead. “Are you feeling okay, sweetie?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” I told her.

Louise was staring at me. “Mom’s right,” she said. “What is with you? You’re acting so … vapid" 'What is with you? You're acting so ... vapid. You've never been this dull or tedious before...' ". You’ve never been this dull or tedious before. It’s creepy.”

“What do you care? You always gibe" 'What do you care? You always gibe when I do things the way I like to do them.' 'I'm your sister. I'm supposed to make fun of you.' " when I do things the way I like to do them.”

“I’m your sister. I’m supposed to make fun of you.” She stopped to frown. “The truth is, you keep things interesting.”

“I guess it’s about to get a lot less interesting around here,” I said, and walked off. Inside, I was jumping for joy. My plan was working!

All day I kept up my specious"All day I kept up my specious behavior. When my mom asked if I wanted to surf on top of the minivan on the way to school, I smiled and said, 'No thanks. I'm actually looking forward to taking the bus.' " behavior. When my mom asked if I wanted to surf on top of the minivan on the way to school, I smiled and said, “No thanks. I’m actually looking forward to taking the bus.” After school, when Jody invited me over to help her feed her family’s pet crocodile, I really wanted to go—but my mom was standing right there, and so I told Jody, “Maybe another time. I’m more in the mood to help my mom clean the house this afternoon.” It was hard to keep up the act of being like my family, but I couldn’t quit now that I knew they were taking notice.

That night, my parents called a family meeting in our sitting room. I knew they were going to say something important, because usually we kids aren’t even allowed in there. That room is sacrosanct"That night, my parents called a family meeting in our sitting room. I knew they were going to say something important, because usually we kids aren't even allowed in there. That room is sacrosanct.".

“Susan,” my mom started, “we want to talk to you. Is everything okay? You aren’t in any trouble, are you?”

“Of course not. I was just trying to act like you guys. Though I don’t know how you can stand it; it’s miserable!”

“But if you were miserable, why did you do it?” Dad asked.

I didn’t want anyone to impugn" 'But if you were miserable, why did you do it?' Dad asked. I didn't want anyone to impugn my motives, so I just told the truth: 'I wanted to show you guys how you look to everyone else...' " my motives, so I just told the truth: “I wanted to show you guys how you look to everyone else. To me. And to show you how much you’re missing out on! Our lives are temporal" '... Our lives are temporal; we've only got so many hours in each day. Why not make the most of that time?' "; we’ve only got so many hours in each day. Why not make the most of that time?”

My family sat there for a few tense seconds. I started to wonder if they thought my speech was sophistry"My family sat there for a few tense seconds. I started to wonder if they thought my speech was sophistry, that I was trying to use my brilliant argument to trick them.", that I was trying to use my brilliant argument to trick them. And then:

“She might be right, Carol,” my dad told my mom. “Maybe we could stand to act a little more … normal. Our neighbors do always seem to be living their lives to the fullest.”

“It was kind of boring with you not blowing anything up or parachuting out of trees the last couple of days,” Louise told me.

“Yeah, it was sad,” Sam said. “It was no fun around here!”

“So it’s settled,” Dad said. “Susan will help all of us learn to act a little more like everyone else. Maybe it will be fun!”

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Can we start now?”

“I suppose we ought to,” my mom said, although she sounded uncertain. “But how?”

“I know just the thing,” I said.

I gathered a few vital supplies, and then led everyone up to the roof. For the rest of the night, we sat under the stars and shot off fireworks. We had a midnight picnic of licorice sticks, fried chicken and flan, and crowed like roosters when the sun came up.

So this, I thought, sighing happily, is what it feels like to have a normal family.