What’s normal?


Someone told me once that their own family life was so dysfunctional that when they were growing up and would see a normal family, they would get insanely jealous.  She said she never grew out of that and even today, she felt the same way. Well, I’ve never seen a normal family, unless it was one being portrayed on a television show. Even then, you have to wonder about the naughties going on behind the scenes. No family dynamic is ever normal, in my opinion.

I never did learn to call Jane Mama. I have always called her by her first name and it has never been an issue for us. I do send her flowers and a card on Mother’s Day and her cards to me are always the Hallmark standards that identify her correct role in my life…from your Mother.  

One of the pat conversational questions people always ask to make small talk is Where are you from?, which always leads to questions about your parents. These were questions I struggled to answer in a way that would abruptly end the line of questioning. I was never sure how someone would take me upon hearing about my parentage for the first time and I wasn’t interested in dealing with the fallout or the judgment or the interrogation.


Quite by accident, I learned the failsafe answer that always ended the conversation directed at me. I told them my parents were deceased, accepted their “I’m so sorry for your loss” and we moved on to other subjects. The first time this slipped out of mouth, I was inwardly shocked at myself. I could not believe I had just told this stranger a huge lie, but I had. When the conversation moved past this uncomfortable moment with such speed, I knew this would be my reply to this question for the rest of my life.

The lies and the shame that my grandmother cloaked me in as a child had come full circle and firmly to roost. Now I was a liar too.

My lie was nothing compared to exposing Jane to any more ridicule. I wasn’t interested in shining a spotlight on her so that more people could purse their judgmental lips and tsk, tsk her indiscretion. I wasn’t interested in causing her any more grief and humiliation. I wasn’t interested in seeing the “Oh, you poor, poor thing” expressions on a face that had no idea what my childhood had been like.

My childhood had not been that horrific.

50s wife

My grandmother was a controlling battle axe that stomped her foot down on any and every creative bone in my body, but I had a great time growing up and it made me the person I am. Yes, I do have some issues, but don’t we all have some? She did not want to raise another child and along comes Katy. I threw a real live wrench in her plans. Who could blame her for wanting to rule me with an iron fist considering how I came into the world. In her eyes, I was a disgrace and a bastard and I would remain that in her eyes until the day she died. That’s just how it was.

She spent the rest of her days never allowing Jane out of her sight until Jane went through menopause and could not bring home any more illegitimate children. Jane fought for her independance on a regular basis and lost every battle. I remember hearing her cry through the wall of our bedrooms that she wished she would die so she didn’t have to go through life being so lonely all the time. She wanted someone to love her. She wanted a companion and my grandmother was dead set against it.

So Jane remained imprisoned until she was well into her 40’s.

She met the love of her life not long after she moved into an assisted living arrangement that my grandmother insisted she have.

Jane would remain with her boyfriend, Wilferd, until the day he died in 2012.

These would be some of the happiest memories of her life. They lived in a small house out in the middle of the country where Jane and he could have a vegetable patch and as many dogs as she wanted. She took him up on the invitation to have a dog, but Wilferd was smart about it and did his research. He brought home a puppy that Jane fell in love with at first sight and this puppy had a reputation.

He was a tiny shih tzu and these dogs are the best ones to have around with someone that suffers from Grand Mal seizures on a regular basis. The dog instinctively knew to stay with her until help arrived and sometimes he was responsible for bringing her around all by his onesy by licking her face. That was amazing!

I knew two ways to bring her safely out of a seizure. One was to gently slap both of her cheeks until the act would snap her out of it. I didn’t like this method because there were occasions she would scare me so much I’d slap a little too hard in a panic. When you’re straddling a thrashing woman in a full blown Grand Mal seizure, on the sidewalk next to a busy downtown street in Washington, DC, you don’t have many options.

The other way to snap her out of a seizure was a wet wash cloth. This was something that wasn’t always readily available, but a wet wash cloth rubbed on her cheeks worked like magic. This is why the dog licking her face worked! It was the same concept.

Jane ended up being the proud owner of a small pack of shih tzus, thanks to Wilferd.

in the oven

My childhood, while far from idyllic, wasn’t that bad. My grandmother enrolled me in a children’s book club and grilled me on the classics until I was in second grade. By then, I had read every classic piece of children’s literature that existed. She made me attend charm school and to learn manners and the art of being a lady. This was especially important to her when she saw my love of climbing trees and keeping snakes that I found outdoors, loose in my bedroom. My grandparents paid to send me to private schools and made sure I had a plan in place for secondary education. It wasn’t perfect everyday, but it was a childhood.

And I acted out terribly when I became a teenager. Who didn’t?

So what is normal?


I really have no idea what normal is, but my childhood created a flexibility in me that is undeniable. It takes effort for me to become rigid about much and that’s why I have had to work so hard to uphold the few personal boundaries I created for myself. The fact that I had to accept so much bullshit as a child because I was unable to change my circumstances, allowed me the humility of knowing there are many things in this life that are just beyond my control.

Try as I might, I can not control anything or anyone, but myself.

There are things I will not tolerate anymore and those are all deeply rooted in my own childhood. I do not like to be lied to. I do not like to be controlled or manipulated and I will not tolerate duplicity of any type. These are all situations I was forced to live with growing up because I had no vote then. But I do have a vote now and I veto these behaviors with a vengeance.

Sometimes I get a little carried away though.

When I turned 25 years old, a few years after my grandfather had passed away and Jane was safely tucked in with Wilferd and out of harm’s way, I divorced the rest of my family. I had enough of them and the ruined holidays, the gossip, the judgement and the bullshit of people that had no idea who I was and really didn’t care to find out. My grandfather and Jane were the only real family I had.

I divorced the rest of them, literally.

I drew up papers, wrote down all of my reasons, which were mostly irreconcilable differences, and mailed them off to the matriarch of the clan. YOU HAVE BEEN OFFICIALLY NOTIFIED! From this day forward there will be no contact, no telephone calls, no letters and no visits. There will be no holiday gifts and no suppers. From this day forward you are released from the superficial act of charitable love bestowed upon me. Consider yourself FREE because that is exactly what I will be…free of all of you and the misery you have rained down on me from the day I was born.

It was liberating!

Well, liberating until the first Thanksgiving I had to spend alone. That kind of sucked. The next year my friends scooped me up and I attended so many different holiday celebrations in the years to follow that I can not imagine anything better if I tried. Friends are the family you choose for yourself and my friends were kin in the best ways.

My grandfather passed away when I was  in my early 20’s and it was years before I could talk about his death without coming completely unglued. I loved him with the whole of my heart and amidst the chaos that surrounded me, I could always look to see his smiling face, always encouraging me to be strong and mighty. He was my rock solid family.

My grandmother passed  away in 2008. No one from the family bothered to call me, in fact they even spelled my name wrong in the obituary. I could see spelling my married name wrong, but they spelled my first name wrong too. In fact, one of my adopted brothers died recently. No one called me then either and I wasn’t even mentioned in the obituary as a sister, even though according to the law, I am one.

Guess how I found out! I was searching for my grandmother’s obituary so I could copy how they spelled my name for this blog post and found his obituary too! Nice, huh? If you love your family and they treat you like a human being, go and hug them right now!

Forever in perpetuity (and now searchable on the Internet) is the total disregard the remaining members of my birth family had for me and continue to remind me of with the simple writing of an obituary. A memorial of a person’s life is really not the place to be passive aggressive, but what can I say? My family wrote the book on being petty and vengeful.

Katie M. Schultz
~from my grandmother’s obituary

2 brothers, Wayne and Roy; 2 sisters, Jane and Roma.
~from my brother Edward’s obituary (I don’t know why this took me by surprise. It was his children that threw rocks at Jane when she was pregnant)

It’s just too special for words, so I can’t think of any to describe it, except I guess the animosity and hatred still runs deep in that family. Oh well..I hope the pettiness they were able to demonstrate serves them well in their next life. I didn’t ask to be a part of their family and when I finally figured out how unwanted I was, I left. I shouldn’t be surprised by anything they do from now on, but I can be the bigger person and not leave nasty comments on their memorials for the living to read.

Jane finally called me two weeks after my grandmother’s funeral. Unlike me, Jane loved her without any feelings of resentment, until the day she died. During that time Jane was not capable of speaking to anyone because she was devastated that her mother was gone. She told me she remembered asking people to call me and let me know. She remembered giving them my phone number, but no one called me and that’s okay. Getting the news from Jane was exactly how I would have wanted it and I knew I would never go to my grandmother’s funeral.

Who’s yer Daddy?!

That will be my next topic. I hope you’ll tune in to see the final chapter on the story of my birth.


About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
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9 Responses to What’s normal?

  1. sandradan1 says:

    Difficult memories here, thanks for sharing. SD


  2. PAZ says:

    I thought my family was normal. We had our problems, but while I was at home, things were a lot better for us than most of the world. Strangely, I thought that that was normal.


  3. Paula says:

    That was rather mature and self-aware of you to emancipate yourself from your family at 25!! Wow! Go you! I like that you call your birth mother Jane. And I like that you had all those friends who became your REAL family for the holidays. “A Normal Family” just means one free from secrets, not necessarily hardache. That’s all “normal” means. Normal families don’t hide crap and fear judgment by others. Normal families certainly aren’t without their drama, but normal families accept it, work with it and love each other through it all. 🙂


    • Thank you Paula 🙂 You’re right, this is true and I know that now because I’ve seen it done, but when you’re growing up and this is all you have to contend with, you either start making the choice to grow beyond it, or you drown in it. I refused to drown and even though I’m not a good swimmer, I can sure as hell doggy paddle 🙂

      It was the secrets that really got to me after a while and I carry that issue with me even today. Perhaps one day I’ll get past that too, but it’s still a work in progress.


  4. Paula says:

    “heartache” not hardache. Hehe!


  5. whine-wine-whatever says:

    I hope it doesn’t sound condescending when I say that the telling of your adoption and childhood is a really brave thing to do. It’s a personal, painful and intimate story that’s yours alone, and you have my deepest admiration for sharing it so openly and honestly. I always thought our family was “normal,” and that my friends’ households were just like mine. I soon learned that wasn’t true, and that I was a very lucky little girl.

    Liked by 1 person

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