The Addams Family Has Nothing On My Family
One of the stories that gets told and re-told every time my family is together is how I was switched at birth.
Truth be told, the story really isn’t all that interesting. I never actually got sent home with the wrong family. There were only two babies born in the rural Montana hospital that day, and I was over eight pounds while the other baby girl was much smaller. So in reality, there was never any significant confusion. The hospital was just so small and births were so infrequent that wristbands weren’t used. As a result, my parents were handed the wrong baby when they were getting ready to leave.
But even though the circumstances weren’t all that dramatic, there were times growing up when I was convinced that I was living with the wrong family. I was sure my dad made a mistake when he told hospital staff that they had given him the wrong baby. At least, I really, really wished this, and I fantasized that someday my real family, the ranchers in Montana, would come rescue me from my plight.
Putting aside the obvious family resemblances, I was convinced that there was no way I could actually be related to the people I was being forced to live with. They were just too weird, and even worse, they were making me weird. I knew this because I spent a lot of time comparing our family to other families.
There was simply no doubt. We were abnormal: my parents didn’t care about the things other parents cared about; they had different expectations and priorities for my brother and me; they didn’t listen to popular music; they rarely watched any television other than PBS; they didn’t care about pop culture and they would express opinions that were outside the norm of suburbia. Even the food we ate was weird.
There were times when the hopelessness of my situation got so bad that I would secretly watch an episode of the Addams Family just because it made me feel a little bit better. But only a little bit, because I knew the Addams Family was fictional, while my family was real. Besides, my mother never approved of such frivolous shows.
But, like so many other situations in life, I grew up and got some perspective.
I’m not saying I completely overcame my compulsive need to compare myself to others and to worry that I was a bit off kilter (I always have been and always will be), but I did realize that there really is no such thing as normal. Most people spend a lot of time and energy putting up appearances rather than truly engaging in the world. I was raised in a family that just didn’t worry about what other people thought and lived accordingly. Because of that, it took me a long time to figure out how much other people were trying to cover up.
I’ll never forget an incident that occurred when my children were small. They had been invited to a birthday party at the home of someone who I thought had it all together. Not only did she have a career, but she was always talking about the amazing meals she cooked, how she was decorating her home and how her children were exceeding at a variety of activities. At that point in my life, I was feeling accomplished if I arrived at work with matching shoes and if my children were fed before I collapsed in the evening.
Needless to say, I didn’t want to go to the party. But I did.
I don’t remember much about the actual event. What I do remember is trying to find the bathroom and opening a door to a bedroom instead. At least, I think it was a bedroom. I couldn’t tell from all the junk that had been thrown in and piled up to get it out of view. This was obviously the mother’s attempt to make her home and her life appear perfect.
At that moment, staring at all that junk piled to the ceiling, I realized how many people spend too much time and energy trying to create an image of who they think they should be rather than simply being who they really are.
My family may have been weird, but at least they taught me the importance of embracing and accepting differences and imperfections, especially our own. They also taught me that no great discoveries or great works of art were the result of simply following the crowd or doing what everyone else was doing. Great advances come from thinking outside the box and having the conviction to do things differently.
My parents innate ability to do this may have skipped me, but it went right to my children. Neither of them seems to care about doing what is considered to be popular or the “in” thing. They are simply happy pursuing their own interests and are comfortable in their own skin. I admit that I sometimes forget what I’ve learned and start comparing them to other kids.
Then I remember the Addams Family. Their neighbors and community members may have thought them strange, but not only were they oblivious to what other people thought, they were also incredibly happy.
I like to think my family is too.