It wasn’t declared by an Act of Congress. It’s not the name of some legislative agenda. It started without firing a single shot.
Let me start by defining normal: Normal is the default, the given, the thing that people find comfort in because it’s familiar. Expected. Known. The thing people cling to because people hate the unknown. Normal is just the state of being acclimated. Of blind acceptance. It’s not even religious faith, which requires belief without evidence, because normal may or may not have any morality attached to it. It just is—without question.
Declaring War on Normal was just something we sort of fell into. Well, actually, it was something Jill found herself doing. I was drafted.
It started back in 2000. I was working in Hell. As a Teamster. So it was supposed to be eternal. And I always assumed it was. I was resigned to putting in my 30 years, drawing a pension and then beginning a life (security and complacency make a powerful prison). Jill thought that maybe that wasn’t the way to go.
She actually convinced me to quit, go back to school and launch a new career. It was a huge move for me. Like someone just told me that gravity was optional, and would I like to jump to the moon? I was someone who aspired to be content. I was someone who usually just went with the flow, never really questioning if the flow was taking me where I wanted to go.
For me, life was simple: you work, you save, you retire, and while you’re doing all of that you raise some kids. Pretty normal. I had a good portion of that figured out already—I had absolute job security (ever try to fire a Teamster? It can’t be done), with wages and benefits enough to equip me comfortably until I retired. I had a condo and a mortgage. I had the routine all ready to become a rut. And I had 11 years into it.
But I quit and I had no idea it was just the beginning of questioning the unquestionable.
After I quit, life bounced to an adjusted normal that sped way too fast for me to make any new ruts. We moved from the condo and bought a house, tripling our mortgage with no steady income or health insurance (I was a student and Jill was a freelance designer). We had saved enough to live comfortably temporarily, but a baby was on the way. Having Ian would prove to be a decisive lesson. It would be the last time we trusted normal.
We treated that pregnancy like most people do: you get pregnant, you go to regular check-ups, then one day the doctor gets the baby out. A completely medical procedure. Like the baby is a growth to be removed. And because we decided to just let strangers worry about it, it became a disaster that ended in an emergency c-section.
And that’s what I think set us on this path for good. All along, we questioned why people were doing the things they did. But after Jill was disemboweled (I saw them digging in her innards to pull Ian out) we swore never again. With our second baby Jill had a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarian) even though we had to search far and wide for midwives willing to fight that battle with us. But we did and they did and Elsa was born in a huge tub surrounded by proud smiling parents.
As parents, the world changes. For all the plans you can have during pregnancy, all the theories you develop leading up to the birth about how you’ll be as a mom or dad, all of that means little once you’re sleepless and faced with a little person who simply WILL NOT COMPROMISE.
Maybe were caught more off-guard than most, but what began with quitting the job and fighting for the VBAC started to crystallize. As parents our focus sharpened—whether it was survival or simply a priority adjustment that comes with a perspective shift. We noticed things that didn’t seem to make a lot of sense when you looked closer. People were holding on desperately to jobs they hated. Everyone was embracing the two-income household as the only way to make ends meet. More and more people were cramming their kids into daycare at younger and younger ages. Why? Each of these things seemed to be accepted as a given. As normal. We realized the default setting didn’t fit us.
We became attached parents and homeschoolers. Then unschoolers. Most of that wasn’t a decision as much as it was just going with what felt right. “Well isn’t that just going with the flow, Jeff, you nimrod?” No. Because the flow is set by others. It’s the current determined by the movement of mainstream society. And for some, or even many, it might be all right. It might be just ok. But not for all. Definitely not for us.
The hardest part of going in a new direction is listening to the people chatter at your back. Listening to their eyes roll in their sockets and proclaiming that there’s NO WAY they could survive on one income or how horrible it would be to see your kids ALL DAY or how terrible it was that our kids wouldn’t be force fed trivia in a human warehouse. The hardest part is feeling insane because maybe all of those reactions are things you once thought. And you no longer believe any of them. So you don’t feel a part of the world.
It sucked for awhile, then we found our community. They’re out there, and they’re much more diverse than you can imagine, but they all agree that family is first and that their definition of family is the only one that matters to them. The beauty is that they’ve all gone their own ways, ways that we may or may not find appealing, but there’s no pressure to agree with their way. Only support for us to find our own. We’ve met incredible people like Jenn Miller from Edventure Project and Nancy Sathre-Vogel from Family On Bikes. Together they formed this Dream Intensive course — a 3-month boot camp in the art of dreaming big dreams and the science of making them come true. We’re currently taking part and it’s nothing less than awesome.
And all of this isn’t to say that normal is bad.
After all, we’re just finding out ours. The real war is on letting the rest of the world define what that is for us. We’re going our own way and we’re documenting the journey. We’d love to be part of someone else’s inspiration, motivation, and community. Or at least entertain them along the way.