Hey Parents, Why Is Normal Such a Bad Thing?

JansportJust in case you needed more proof that you'll never be a perfect parent, this just in: you're trying too hard to make them an individual. They don't really care about it.

I really wanted to roll my eyes at Felisa Rogers' Salon essay "How my hippie parents turned me into a consumer." Here we go again, another kid blaming her parents for everything. And for being materialistic to boot? Good for those parents for sticking to their guns!

But then I turned off the parent brain. I turned on the daughter one. And, ouch. It hurts.


Says Rogers:

I wish, like I have wished a thousand times before, that we were normal. I wish that we lived in a white house with geraniums in planters and green shutters. I wish that my lunches were Kraft singles and baby carrots with ranch dressing, packed in authentic Tupperware containers. I wish that school shopping suddenly meant the same thing to my parents as it does to my schoolmates' parents, who buy packages of white athletic socks and miraculous Side-out T-shirts and Lisa Frank trapper keeper folders.

And there it is. While we're running around shouting about our kids' right to be individuals and refusing to put baby in a corner, all the average kid really wants is to be normal. And normal, to them, means just like everyone else. With the same clothes, the same food.

That sameness that makes my parental skin crawl as I think of my bright, strong-willed child shoved into a box is the one thing Rogers and I have in common. As a parent, it hurts to admit this. But in so many ways, I wanted it too.

Only it wasn't a Side-Out T-shirt. It was a JanSport backpack. And year after year after blessed year, my mother expected me to cart my homework to school in the same Lands' End backpack she'd purchased for me in the fifth grade. I carried that purple bag through senior year, by which time I had developed an aversion to all colors deemed "girly." Seven years in, it was still standing strong against the elements, although the reflective strip across the back meant to make it a safer pick for kids walking home had been worn away.

As a teenager, I looked at that backpack as the mark of how different I was, how my parents had marked me a freak because they just wouldn't let me pack it in and get me that JanSport bag that the rest of the kids had. Don't get me wrong. I was confident in being different. I was a reader. Even though the other kids rolled their eyes at Jeanne walking around "with her nose stuck in a book" as they often quoted from Beauty and the Beast. I was the only girl to shave my head senior year. I was the only girl threatening to wear a tux to the prom (I didn't carry through with it, sadly).

But I saw a line in the sand. The books, the hair, they were on one side. The backpack. The lack of sleepovers. The Wal-Mart jeans. They all put me on the other side. The freak side. I didn't want to be a freak. I wanted to be normal. And like Rogers, I blamed my parents for marking me. But I'm also like the Rogers of today who has come to embrace conservationism as she's grown older, wiser, and more aware of the world's issues.

I can see why my parents did what they did. We weren't poor, but we weren't rich either. My father owned his own business, my mom spent much of my school years pursuing first a bachelor's and then a master's degree. They spent wisely. A Lands' End backpack at the time was more expensive, but it was purchased with the intention that it would last. But Mom, Dad, I'm here to tell you it was just a backpack. One measly thing. One $25 they could have spent.

Parents are supposed to protect their kid, the individual. It's normal for a mom to fight for her daughter's right to play with trucks or a son to wear a tutu. And it's normal for us to put affording to feed the kids over buying the newest fashionable item.

But every once in awhile, we could use a little reminder that being a kid is hard. And you don't have to compromise all of your ideals for the occasional caving to your kids' whims. It could be as simple as a backpack. Sometimes "normal" isn't such a bad thing.

Do you struggle with balancing the two?


Image via _Fidelio_/Flickr

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