I remember being surprised one day when reading that some people may have regrets about their life being too ordinary. It hadn’t occurred to me that ordinary could be a drawback. I always thought that having an average job, an average house and average children with an average amount of friends (and an average amount of problems because it’s not all roses) would be an ideal thing*. I didn’t ever aspire to be ordinary but I guess I assumed that my life would be.
My family is certainly ordinary in some ways. We have an average house, in an average suburb with an average car. We have a trampoline, a couple of bikes and a basketball ring in our backyard. My children go to a public school and are enrolled in extracurricular activities like football, swimming and they have play dates. I am an average stay-at-home primary caregiver who cleans the house, cooks average meals of an evening and helps out at school. We play, work and laugh together but we also argue and make mistakes like families do.
But in other ways we are less ordinary or more extraordinary. My sons and I experience more sensory processing challenges and social-communication challenges, which lead to us being confused, overwhelmed and underwhelmed more easily than others. We experience greater than average amounts of anxiety and sometimes behave more intensely when under pressure by either crying, yelling or becoming withdrawn. It’s actually pretty typical to react like that when under pressure but often we are under pressure in circumstances that other people are not, so those reactions may (falsely) seem misplaced. We fiddle, wriggle and become distracted more regularly than others and we are very concerned about the well-being of other people when we see them upset because we know how it feels.
My sons and I are academic high achievers. My children need to be extended in class, they want to answer all the questions and help all the other kids in the class to understand. They are never short of receiving praise from people and I haven’t wanted to teach them too much about boasting yet because I’d like them to bask in the glory of success for a few years yet. At their age, they can get away with it. We are prone to perfectionism and love routine. School works for us; it is the ideal environment when our peers treat us well (and my boys have been treated well). My sons and I are quirky and make quirky observations, we say and do things that others wouldn’t normally say and do and most of the time it’s meaningful, interesting and/or amusing.
I love my extraordinary life including the ordinary bits and I wouldn’t change it for the world. We all have a bit of extraordinary in our lives, you’ve just got to know where to look for it.
I thought I’d leave you with a few gems, straight from the mouths of my boys, when they were younger:
Jeremy told me one day that when he grows up he is going to be a Doctor on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays he will be a Fireman, on Saturdays an Astronaut and Sundays a Policeman. I asked “Aren’t you going to have any days off work?” and he said “Of course mum, I’ll have holidays!” “What about weekends?” I added. He said thoughtfully “No I won’t have weekends off because I really want to be an Astronaut and a Policeman as well”.
One day Jeremy asked his dad how balloons were made and his dad attempted an explanation but Jeremy wanted more detail, so he asked: “What kind of shape? (is the rubber moulded into)”. His dad replied “A round shape”. Jeremy asked “What about a square shape?” His dad stated “No, you can’t get square shaped balloons!” Jeremy asked “Why not?” and his dad (momentarily stumped) said “You just can’t!” Jeremy was very unimpressed with his dad’s answer and stated emphatically “Well, when I grow up I want to be a balloon maker and make square balloons!”
On the topic of balloons:
Andrew came home from a university open day with two identical blue balloons, one for Jeremy and one for Damian so there would be no arguments. They were filled with helium and the boys were fascinated that they were floating on the end of strings. First thing Jeremy says is “Can I have the highest one?”
On the topic of behaviour:
One day, when I was feeling a little frustrated, I said to Jeremy “If you grizzle and groan when I take you places I won’t want to take you anywhere again”. Jeremy responded with “OK I won’t. I will grizzle but I won’t groan.”
On the topic of anxiety:
One night Jeremy asked me “Can you come in with me because I am afraid of the dark?” I said “I thought you weren’t afraid of the dark”. Jeremy explained further “But I keep thinking there are ‘baddies’ (there)”. I said the first thing that came into my mind “Well, think of ‘goodies’”. Jeremy said “But that makes me think of goodies fighting baddies”. I said “Well think of rainbows then” and Jeremy replied “But that makes me think of baddies sliding down rainbows.”
Jeremy commented on how dark it was one morning and I explained that it was because the daylight hours are getting shorter the further we get from summer. Jeremy said “The longest day is December the 21oneth and the shortest day is June the 21oneth” I was impressed (and expressed that) but I also corrected him to say 21st instead of 21oneth and Damian adds “it’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th. They are called ‘ordinal’ numbers!” Turns out they taught that earlier in the week, in Prep school.
As I was getting out of the car one day (managing several bags) I said to myself out loud “Oh no, where is my handbag?” I quickly remembered that I shouldn’t alarm my children and added “Don’t worry, it will be here somewhere.” Jeremy said unimpressed “It’s on your shoulder.” I laughed out loud and Damian then asked (with a grin on his face): “Where is my hair?” I laughed and said “On your head”. Then Damian said “Where are my glasses?” I replied “On your face!” Then Jeremy joined in and they continued making similar jokes for a few minutes until we had to go.
The bedtime conversation with Damian went like this: Me: “I love you just the way you are!” Damian: “No you don’t” (probably feeling a bit uncomfortable with my declaration) Me: “Yes I do, I love you just the way you are!” Damian: “I don’t” Me: “What do you want to be?” Damian: “A grownup!” Me: “Why do you want to be a grown up?” Damian: “So I don’t have to go to Kinder” Me: “Well then you will have a job when you are grownup. What job will you have?” Damian: “I can’t remember.” Me (not wanting to make him more anxious): “Don’t worry you will learn about what job you want to do at school” Damian: “What I grow up I won’t be able to be scared of the dark anymore!” Me: “Grownups can still be scared of things. I am scared of spiders.” Damian: “What is Daddy scared of?” I couldn’t think of anything straight away so I said jokingly: “Daddy is scared of mummy.” Damian laughed (he understood the joke).
Damian loves the ‘Going on a bear hunt’ song, so I looked up versions of that song on YouTube for him to listen to. I saw the image for one and said “You’ll like this one!” Damian said indignantly “Don’t tell me what I like, I know what I like!”
*Average in Australia or other Westernized country.
**We have done a lot of work to demystify the dark and help manage Damian’s anxiety about night times (involving Social StoriesTM with matching props to keep under the bed, story books and even a board game). When Damian and Jeremy are particularly vulnerable I will lie next to them for a few minutes. Most of the establishment of routines for bedtimes was done along time ago (refer here and here).