Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been Normal?

When I was a kid, I believed that my family was the standard by which all families should be judged.  In the ’80’s, however, when family psychology met popular culture and some of us went questing for our inner child, the news was not so good.  We learned that 96% of families were dysfunctional; that crazy had become the new normal; that 24 out of 25 of us had grown up with the Griswalds and not the Cleavers!

Who's your daddy?

Just when we thought we had that settled, when I thought my cred as a free thinker and iconoclast was safe, a new book threatens all that: Are You Normal?, by Mark Shulman.  According to a Washington Post article, Shulman’s book has 176 pages of questions for kids, scored against other answers, which allows you rank yourself on a “weird-o-meter.”

With some trepidation, I answered the sample questions in the article, going for the perspective I would have had in grade school.  Feel free to ride along – if you dare:

1) Do you have a brother or sister:  

Yep – one sister, making me one of the 87.5% who have a sibling.  So right of the bat, it’s not looking good for the bohemian persona.

2) Have you ever faked being sick to get out of school?

Well duh, of course I did!  Can we say, “World Series?”  That boosted my weirdness quotient, since only 25% answer yes to this one.

3)  Where do you bite the chocolate bunny first?

The ears of course, along with “more than half”  of those polled.  Interestingly, 1 in 25 go for the bum…now that is strange!

4)  Smooth or Chunky peanut butter?

I started to say “chunky,” but that’s revisionist history.  As a kid, it had to be smooth, lest it tear my Wonder Bread.  “Slightly more than half,” share that predilection.

5) TV in your bedroom?

Not then, not now, though it wasn’t nearly as common when I was a kid as it is now (56% answer “yes”).  My parents had a portable with rabbit-ears, but those were the days when, if the TV “went on the fritz,” you pulled the tubes and carried them down to the tube tester at the local grocery store.

6)  Did you ever bite your fingernails?

Rarely but on certain stressful occasions, yes.  The answer to that was a 50/50 split.

7)  Did you ever bite your toenails?

Ewww!  And that reaction is not unique.  A full 90% say they “could not or would not” do such a thing, so most of us are plain vanilla on that score.

The Washington Post review concludes by saying “the real point of the book is to show that nobody is perfectly normal or perfectly weird.  We’re all unique, and that’s part of what makes us special.”  Not such a bad conclusion to reach.

However, if “special” is now normal,  but normal normal is weird…I guess I better not go down that road, just quit while I’m ahead.

9 thoughts on “Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been Normal?

  1. 1) Two Brothers
    2) Probably, but not very often, I actually enjoyed school as a chance to see all my friends
    3) Probably the ears, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had one
    4) It was always chunky when I was younger, but now it’s smooth
    5) Yes
    6) Not often, but I have in the past
    7) No, never

    As for the actual definition of normal, I have to quote one of my old friends who said that normal was “an idea created by mass marketing in order to sell more products.” The idea being that ads would describe a “normal” family and show that they had X, so you had to have X as well.


    • You know what came to mind when you spoke of “normal” as an idea created with mass marketing, was Ayla getting shunned in “Clan of the Cave Bear.” It would take an anthropologist to really answer the question, but I believe that fitting into one’s tribe, or small town or community, down through human history, was a matter of emotional and physical survival. To some degree, it still is.

      One thing that’s sad is that other cultures may have been more inclusive than ours. Jung grew up in 19th c. Switzerland, which I think of as being pretty uptight (look at the photos of men’s collars). And yet he said there were people in his village he realized were real schizophrenics later, when he did his medical studies. Yet they fit into the village. “Original” was the euphemism for “less than a full deck,” as in, “Oh, that Morgan is very original.”

      Other tribes, like the Lakotas honored people we might call “special needs” and considered them sacred.

      So you’re absolutely right that having the whitest teeth and the coolest jeans is an advertising creation, but I think the fear of not fitting in or being “an outsider” is probably pretty deep in our tribal memory.


  2. I think I may have mentioned the book on your blog before, but Crazy Like Us by Ethan Watters is a perfect example of how horrible the US is about dealing with people who have mental conditions (one of the chapters specifically deals with schizophrenia in an african country, I can’t remember exactly where offhand).


  3. 1. Three older sisters. Yikes!
    2. Sure. I broke the thermometer once holding it in steam to heat it up.
    3. Ears.
    4. Chunky. We didn’t have Wonder bread.
    5. No. One TV in the house.
    6. Nope. Unless some of the chocolate from the bunny got under them.
    7. I am not now nor have ever been that limber.
    I don’t think there is such a thing as normal. Maybe average, but not normal. But that’s just me. And I certainly don’t claim to be normal. Looks like a fun book, though.


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