The Return to a Normal
That Never Was

As I pedaled my way past house after house in the sub-development of cookie-cutter houses, a deep sense of longing settled into my chest. Not for the size of the houses, which were at least three times the size of ours, nor even for the relative opulence of their upper-middle-class trappings casually strewn about: cars, basketball hoops, etc. No, the longing I felt came when, on our family bike ride, we passed the open doors of garages with tools hung up neatly on white peg boards and plenty of open room for cars to park on gleaming concrete surfaces. I longed for that much order in my life, to have a garage that wasn't dark, dank and cluttered with years of items I have been too busy to properly organize and store.

They must have really boring lives to be able to spend so much time on their garages, I thought bitterly.

I tried to bolster myself with this thought and march on. But when my husband left with Malachi for another therapy trip to San Rafael, I decided to spend the week's worth of spare time cleaning out our garage.

It took me less than a day. Good grief taking care of only one typically functioning kid is easy!! JJ calmly followed me around and played with stuff as I sorted through the garage. Once, I heard him coming up behind me repeating a genuine question in his tiny voice: "A... hat? A hat? A hat?" I turned around and saw he had placed an old dusty wheelbarrow tire on his head and, yeah, it did look sort of like a hat.

By Wednesday of last week, my house was reorganized and spotless and I had regained some self-respect about my housekeeping skills. I started to turn my attention to our severely neglected front yard, but stopped myself.

Maybe I could have a little fun? So JJ and I went to the zoo and the children's museum without the encumbrance of a stroller. We ate out at restaurants without a care because he can sit in the chairs and eat everything on the menu. The world was suited to us, designed for us.

I took artsy-fartsy pictures of JJ, which I discovered is much more difficult than taking pictures of his brother because he moves around so damn much.

Life was so easy and we having so much fun that I began to worry how I would feel when Malachi returned. This was the life I thought I would lead: the one with only one kid. The one that was carefree. The one that allowed me to organize my life into the shapes that I found pleasing.

During our last day of this freedom, I took JJ to a movie theater's "mommy matinee." Like walking around and eating out, this is something we can't do very well with Malachi. He is terrified of anything dangerous or sudden, and movies with even a modicum of plot contain a lot of danger and suddenness.

But it turns out that JJ doesn't like movies with plot either. I guess I never noticed when I was distracted by Malachi's crying. After 10 minutes he was pleading with me to leave, so we abandoned the idea and went to a nearby park.

At the park (where I got to actually sit on a park bench instead of facilitating play) were identical twin boys, only a few months older than mine. I felt the familiar pangs of jealousy as I watched them play together and eat a snack together.  But it wasn't until I took this photo that I realized I wasn't jealous of their mother, with what I presumed to be her relatively easier existence, I was jealous of the boys.

JJ looked so alone that I began to realize the longing I was feeling was for his brother's companionship. Not a brother who could walk, or eat or do anything exactly like he can, but just a brother. JJ had been an only child for a week, but he was never destined to be an only child. He was always, always going to have a brother.

We returned home and as I looked around, I discovered that, in the days since Wednesday, the house had slipped back into its usual state of clutter. I went out to put something in the garage and even it didn't look nearly as clean as I thought it had before.

That was when I realized, this was my normal. That "normal" life I thought would have, the one with one typical kid, a tidy house and time to go on outings, that never was and never will be and I guess I don't really want it. This normal, the one I live every day, it's not perfect and it's not necessarily happy, but it is where I feel most comfortable. It's mine.

And, hey, at least it's not boring.

Stumbo Family Story


  1. Your words move me to tears. You are so blessed with amazing insight.

  2. I've learned that the grass is never greener. It just looks like that from a distance. Up close you would see the weeds, bare spots, and rocks. I'll keep my own rocks :)

  3. Just beautiful! Love it.

  4. I love how you are able to become aware of the present moment that you live in. I always know I need to do this, but somehow find this hard to do. Thanks for reminding me that it is not that hard!

  5. Beautiful truth, Shasta! Well written and definitely moving, too. Love it.

  6. Beautifully written x how special to have some 1:1 time too before you go back to your normal x it is different and it gives amazing insight into what truly matters x

  7. Anonymous11:26 AM

    This is so beautiful and true. I love it.

  8. I really get this. I find it hard to explain what sounds like a complaint or jealousy when it's really a longing for some perceived normalcy when life is anything but. Thought you might like my blog, too. Here's a sample post: p.s. Can't wait to get your book in the mail, soon!

  9. How frustrating to not be able to keep things as organized or as simple as you would like because someone in your family has a disability. I understand that. May you be blessed with time to rest this week!

    I don' know if you would be interested, but Tedx San Antonio recorded a talk about glass children. You can watch it here:

    1. Very interesting TED talk. Thanks for sharing, Jenny! I try to keep JJ in the love & support loop as much as possible, but I think it's sort of inevitable that he will have issues as he gets older and I will be sure to get him in sibling programs when he's old enough.


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