Wednesday evening …


I’m stuck late at work. Which, given the circumstances, is really, really not helpful.

Katie needs her Mama. It’s been a rough few days and I haven’t been around enough. Some narrow minded idiot  A kid in school called her weird. Not exactly a shock that the social dynamics of middle school are proving to be tricky to navigate, but here we are. Last night at bedtime, she asked the $64,000 question.

“Mama, do you think I’m normal?”

I looked at my beautiful girl. My girl who is miles ahead of normal. My angel, my hero, my teacher, my daughter who is so much more than normal could ever hope to be. My theoretically typical kid who really, thank God, is anything but. My sweet, innocent, hurting girl who wants nothing more than to feel whatever she thinks normal feels like.

I stroked her hair. “Baby,” I said, “normal isn’t real. You’re just like the other kids in so many ways, but so too, you’re you. And all that YOU are is lot more than normal.”

I let her cry. I kissed her face and smoothed her hair. I promised her that tomorrow I’d pick her up after work and we’d talk some more.

Tomorrow is now today and I’m stuck. I’ve called to tell her that I’ll be there as soon as I can. That come Hell or High Water, she and I will make our way to the coffee shop. Because I have some things to tell her.

I’ve got to tell her that normal sucks and kids who call other kids weird can kiss her ass. That boys who call girls weird sometimes do so for reasons that defy all logic. That in three years when he asks her to the dance it’ll all make sense. I have to tell her that I love her. That even if she weren’t my kid – if heaven forbid we weren’t related, I’d still want to be her friend. That somehow, some way, I’d find my way into her life. Because her light and her spirit, her creativity and her generosity well, they make normal look pretty damn lame.

That normal sucks and kids who call her weird can kiss her ass.

I will pick her up. We will have coffee. We will talk. On the way home I’ll say it all, every bit of it, nearly word for word. But first, she has something she wants to talk about. I’m all ears.

“Mama, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about this,” she says.

“Hmm, well, hit me,” I say. “Let’s see.”

“I just .. Well, maybe I’ll just wait til you get home. This is awkward.”

“Oh, OK. Is it going to be less awkward if we’re face to face?”

“Oh. Maybe not.”

“Honey, I won’t judge it, truly. No matter what it is. So why don’t we just rip the band-aid off instead of letting it hang over our heads until I can get home.”

“OK. It’s just … well … ”

She trails off.

“Go ahead, babe.”

“I want to have a bake sale to raise money to buy something for someone.”


“I just ..”

I skip the “Oh for the love of all things holy” and simply say, “Honey, just say it.”

“OK,” she says, “I really want to have a bake sale to raise money to buy Tucker a keyboard.”

I’m quiet. I have no choice. I’m at work.

“Mama? Are you there?” she asks. Her voice is tight. She’s worried.

“I’m here, baby. I’m just trying not to cry.”

“Oh no. Why?”

“I’m just so proud of you, Katie. You’re an incredible kid.”

“So it’s OK?”

“Well, I’ll talk to Jeni about it.”

I pause for a minute, trying to take this in.

“Baby,” I ask, “how would you know that Tucker would want a keyboard?”

“Cause you told me that he likes music. And if he’s stuck in bed, well, I thought he’d enjoy it.”

I’m trying to keep up. When did I mention that he likes music? Oh yeah, that one time when I showed her the pictures on Luck2Tuck and she asked if they do anything fun at the hospital and I told her that he’d gotten to jam with one of the guys from Coldplay and how that meant the most to him because he loves music so much. 

She wants to hold a bake sale to buy a keyboard for a kid she’s never met. 

This is MY kid. 

How did I get this lucky?

How did I get so blessed?

She’s still talking.

She’s eleven; she’s always talking. 

“So I was thinking of asking Principal E if I could have the sale outside the school at dismissal time. Cause obviously we’d get the most people that way. And maybe … um, Mama, what do I call Tuck’s mom?”

“Mrs Gowen, sweetie. Unless she invites you otherwise; you call her Mrs Gowen.”

“Ok, so could we maybe ask Mrs Gowen if we could get some Luck2Tuck bracelets to sell at the sale? Cause I think that would be great. I mean, people would not only buy them to help pay for the keyboard, but then they’d be wearing them too.”

“Sweetie?” I begin, “why did you think I wouldn’t be OK with this?”

“Well, I don’t know. Confidentiality and stuff. I didn’t know if everyone knew he had Leukemia.”


THIS kid wants to be NORMAL?

What a shame that would be.

I slow her down just enough to explain why we need to check with Jeni before jumping in. I tell her that it’s important to ask what Tuck might really NEED before plunging headlong into getting something that we may WANT to give him. And then she does it again.

“Mama, we can’t give him the thing that he needs.”

Breathe, Jess, breathe. 

“So I’d really like to give him something that will make him HAPPY.”

I promise her that I’ll write it all up and send it to Jeni. That I’ll ask her if Tuck has a keyboard.

I tell her that I’ll be home as soon as I can.

I hang up the phone.

I do what I need to do and I head home. I arrive late, but I grab her anyway. So dinner will be late tonight. It is what it is. I have some things I have to tell her.

I’ve got to tell her that normal sucks and kids who call other kids weird can kiss her ass. That boys who call girls weird sometimes do so for reasons that defy all logic. That in three years when he asks her to the dance it’ll all make sense.

I have to tell her that I love her. That even if she weren’t my kid – if heaven forbid we weren’t related, I’d still want to be her friend. That somehow, some way, I’d find my way into her life. Because her light and her spirit, her creativity and her generosity – well, they make normal look pretty damn lame.

That she can’t even see normal from where she’s sitting.

Thank God. 


37 thoughts on “normal

  1. I want so much for Katie to know what a fantastic person she is. I want so much for her not to bleed from other kids’ thoughtless and horrible remarks. Normal is so overrated!

    Love you,

  2. Why be normal when she is so much more than normal…normal is boring. She is AWESOME!!! She is CARING!!! She is an ANGEL!!!! She is so much more….

  3. What a beautiful story! Tell you lovely, beautiful, mature and intelligent daughter that she is so not weird, she is amazing! My older “typical” son went through an experience like this in middle school too. It is terrible, but your daughter will find her way because she is already so much more advanced, and amazing than the kid who called her weird.

  4. If Katie’s “weird”, then next time someone calls me weird I will say thank you. It must be an extreme compliment.

    And if that boy does ask her to a dance in three years, I hope she’ll say no and go with someone who can express himself without being mean. 🙂

  5. Katie is magnificent. I think one of the many many reasons God may have given her to you was so you could share her with us. Whenever I find myself fearing for the future of my son, I remember that there are children like Katie. Compassionate, clever, brilliant and so inspirational. Children who will grow into active advocates and who will continue the fight for respect, understanding, and appreciation within the autism community. Katie is everything I hope my daughter will be.

  6. Why would Katie want to be “normal” when she’s got AWESOME all wrapped up? She is such an inspirational kid with a huge heart. Katie, don’t let kids like that get in your head. They still have so much to learn about the world, from amazing kids like you.

  7. I used to have a bumper sticker that said “why be normal?”. No, Katie is not normal, she is extraordinary ! How many other girls at her school have modeled for Ralph Lauren? How many others have a heart as big as her? She will have to come to terms with it, she is one in a million and God blessed her with many gifts! Katie, middle school is not forever and high school is neither. When you go to college you will be more apt to find kindred souls from the diverse population. My BFF is someone I met when I was 19, not 11.
    P.S. That boy probably likes you but he is too scared to do anything about it. Calling you names is a way for him to get your attention….boys are weird like that.

  8. Wow, that girl is definately her mother’s child. Because if you have not realized it, all the things you see in her, we see in you.

    If she gets to have the bake sale, please let us know. I will want to send her a check.

  9. Okay, I run the risk of really being misunderstood, but here goes. I have this thing where, when times are tough and no one understands my kid. I think about Jesus (I’m not even religious) and his mom. And how nobody understood him. And how his mom stuck by him to the very end. People called him crazy, threw things at him, and, as the story goes, finally did him in.

    She stuck by him.

    Back then, they thought he was crazy. Today, he’s, in many people’s eyes, a prophet.

    I often think about Mary being the first special needs mom on record.

    So really? I’m not much interested in “normal”. I’m more interested, in my daughter’s word: authentic. Really speaking your beliefs, and knowing your heart.

    And Katie is authentic.

    P.S. Please tell me where I can send a check to that bake sale.

  10. Weird? Why yes – if it is weird to care so much about other people, if it is weird to be a shining light in a cesspool, if it is weird to be an old soul in a morass of new. “Normal” people do things like step over someone who is bleeding on a sidewalk, “Normal” ignores the fact that someone is being abused, “Normal” is a setting on the washing machine. Give me weird every time. I know that doesn’t help with the here and now at her age, words hurt so much. Please, if you feel it appropriate, tell her that there is a whole world “out there”, waiting for her light and supporting her “weirdness”. Oh, the places she’ll go! 🙂

  11. My middle and high school mantra was “why be normal?” “normal is boring”. But mine displayed as wearing suspenders, hats, and pants tucked into my socks. Katie’s not-normal manifestations are WAY better. Keep aiming for more than normal Katie!

  12. I always tell my students that being weird is awesome and that I wouldn’t want to be “normal” because it’s boring. And I also refuse to tell my son to do things “normally” (i.e. sit normally at the dinner table) because I don’t want him thinking normal is how things are supposed to be done. Bravo to Katie for refusing to be normal. And…If there’s chocolate at this bake sale, I’m in!

  13. I have recently read a book that theorizes that maybe, just maybe, all the special folks here on this earth (the ones like our kids on the spectrum, who courageously face every day in a confusing world, or even the ones like Tuck, who are fighting a daily physical battle just to live another day, and so many others for so many different reasons) are here to change us, to change the world…to inspire us to step outside of our comfortable box, to pick up a cause and run headlong into the fray, to go where the angels fear to tread…that maybe they are here for a very special purpose on earth. I know I have heard you describe those “unearthly” moments with your Brooke…with her bottomless eyes and her beautiful soul. Who would you be without Brooke? How has she (and her challenges) changed you? Who would I be without my two girls on the spectrum? My NT boy in the middle, he is like your Katie…breath-taking in his selflessness, his patience and compassion, his ability to comfort. He sees the world through different eyes. He is daily surrounded by people struggling, yet maintains his sense of humor, positive attitude, and playful personality. Our NT kids are not ever going to be “normal” in the traditional sense. They know too much. They know that there are more important issues in life than trendy clothes, popular music, and the latest movie. That doesn’t mean that those things don’t ever matter to them. It is just that they naturally have their priorities straight. They know what REALLY matters at the end of the day. They ARE and WILL be different from their peers…and that may make their peers uncomfortable. I raised my undiagnosed Aspie mom. I raised my sweet Aspie brother. And I was always different. Never bullied, but I never fit in. I was never cool or popular, and I made other kids uncomfortable…I was too wise, too knowing, too mature. I was a little mother. And, if that made me weird, well, I couldn’t do anything to change it. And, even if I could, I wouldn’t. Because I turned into a caring, nurturing, responsible, hard-working adult with no sense of entitlement. And, although I abhor conflict, I fight for my girls. I stand in the gap. I am raising awareness in our community. I am starting a support group. I am battling the school system. I am thankful for your blog. I am thankful for what you share…the good, the bad, the ugly, and the sweet and funny. You make me laugh and cry. And I never feel alone. You inspire. You educate. You make me stop and think. You make me quesiton my decisions and my words. You make me wonder if I have done enough. You make me want to be a better mom, a better advocate, a better voice. Thank you, Jess. Your post gave me chills. Katie is who she is because of you, her dad, and her sister. She has already gone wayyyyyy past normal and has arrived at extraordinary. And you can tell her I said so.

  14. I just LOVE your Katie! She is thoughtful beyond words. I can’t wait to see her follow in her “mama’s” footsteps and do even more great things as she grows up!

  15. Incredible young woman. Being parented by an incredible mom (and I know you don’t always feel that way ……). I have to leave which is just as well because I may write a small novella about the minefield that has sprung up for me as a parent somewhere on the way to having a 16 year old. The fact that she is talking, still, is definitely a great method of mine defusing. Her bake sale may have to carry virtual cupcakes for patrons in Florida. Just sayin’.

  16. Normal is SO overrated. Try telling that to a middle schooler, however. From what I’ve observed, conformity seems to be the ultimate goal in middle school, especially among the girls. But there are pockets of kids who defiantly go against the grain, way more so once the kids hit high school. I can see it in how much more expressive the high school girls seem to be with their fashions, whereas in middle school they look like clones. Katie will find those who dare to be themselves, and mostly likely lead them. If not now, then soon. And those “normal” kids can continue with their sadly conformist ways.

  17. Instead of blathering on about how *I* had tears of pride because of your girl, I will just let you know (and ask you to pass on) that I WISH I would have had a friend like Katie when I was that age. I WAS Katie in many ways at that age and I was bullied for it time and time again in many ways. My Mom held my face, kissed my tears, and smoothed my hair. She told me that those kids had no idea what it meant to be nice and want to do for others instead of having the “coolest” clothes (we were poor, and I could have bought them with babysitting money) or be in the “cool” crowd (the crowd that was often seen in the office). She told me that I should be PROUD to be me. It took me a long time to fully appreciate her words and actions, but I am so thankful for them.
    Katie…be PROUD of who you are; be PROUD to be “weird”; keep doing what you’re doing…I would have killed to have a friend like you.

  18. This morning my daughter told me that when she’s grown up she want a corvette. I told her I wanted a Camaro of course she gave me one of those looks that only my girl can that said but you are grown up mom. I told her ” I know I’m grown now, but I have kids and there are more important things to buy now.” To which she informed me that she’ll buy me a Camaro when she’s famous or My David will when he is a computer genius. She never fails to astound me. Just days ago she told me that one of the older girls doesn’t like her because she’s too happy. It broke my heart but having been an unhappy girl once I understood. I told her that sometimes when somebody is so unhappy it hurts to see people happy and basically it’s just jealousy. She understood in a way that it doesn’t seem a 9 year old should be able to, but she always does. I bawled reading this, tried not to cry to loudly and upset little boy.

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