What is normal? It’s a question I have been struggling with quite a bit recently. As an adult, I have the luxury to say, “There is no normal.” I paid my dues. I can be me without worrying what anyone else thinks. I don’t need to fit in. I have carved out my little place in this world and I am comfortable in it. I like the skin I wear, and I like the person I have become. But it wasn’t always that way.
My normal is having two babies at a time and dealing with all the struggles and triumphs that it brings. I recognize that isn’t most other people’s normal. I realize my line of work isn’t what most people think of when they think about going to work. It’s hard to imagine that someone could be working in their pajamas while eating pretzels on their couch – but I do it every day! It’s my normal. I have the ability not to care if someone says it isn’t because they don’t pay my bills. Hint – I do that too while sitting on my couch in my pajamas.
My children aren’t as lucky to have had that life experience yet. Like most children, they are still trying to figure out where they fit into this world. The world of a 5-year-old is a lot more brutal than I remember. Maybe I blocked it all out or maybe I was a little more “normal” than my kids. For my two boys normal is the color pink and stuffed animals. They are hyperactive, one might even say they have “ants in their pants”. They are smart but unfocused, sometimes to the point of frustration. They learn but learn in a different way. Do these things make them abnormal? I don’t think so but I have that luxury to say there is no normal. They haven’t carved out that special place in the world yet. These things matter to them. These things matter to the kids around them too.
They began kindergarten with one huge abnormality. There are two of them and they look very similar. None of the kids in their classes have a twin sibling. They were put on display quite literally from day one. As the weeks have turned into months, it has become clear that isn’t the only abnormality they are facing when they walk into school each day. They have noticed that what was always normal in our home isn’t always normal among their classmates. We celebrate differences in the world at home. We believe that each human being is unique and that is a good thing. They are learning through bullying that unique isn’t something they want to be. They wish they filled the background never to stand out in the crowd. However, they can’t. There is one normal they can’t change. The double trouble, Boy your hands are full, Are they twins? effect.
I thought we had come a long way from the days of kids picking on kids for being different. I thought we were making progress as a nation and world to embrace our differences. I really think we were until last year. 2016 was the year that bullies of all ages returned to the forefront. It is the “Trump Effect” as some educators have dubbed it. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, reported increased fear and anxiety surrounding the 2016 election and after. In a survey by Teaching Tolerance, made public in April 2016, teachers reported minorities and immigrant children being bullied with comments straight from the candidates’ mouths. The study notes, “Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment, and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.” Some of the responses have been truly terrifying. In North Carolina, a high school teacher says she has “Latino students who carry their birth certificates and Social Security cards to school because they are afraid they will be deported.” Is this the country we live in now? Our citizens need to carry their documentation with them. No. I refuse to believe this is what half the country wants.
Now, my kids are not Muslim, they aren’t Mexican, nor are they African-American. But they are kind. They would never dream of laughing at or making fun of another person. In a way, that in itself makes them a target to be bullied. But their love for the color pink and Barbie makes them a bigger target within the Trump effect we now live.
To update Martin Niemoller’s famous quote, first they came for the Mexicans, I remained silent; I was not a Mexican. Then they came for the Muslims and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Muslim. When they came for me there was no one left to speak out…
I have to speak up, the election is over and I owe it to the Mexicans, the Muslims, the African-Americans, but most importantly, I owe it to my special children. I promised when they were born that I would fight to the death for them. I will not break that promise. I am fighting for all men, women, and children that don’t fit into the “normal” box, that have been bullied, killed, and threatened. I am fighting the hate, the indifference, and overall vitriol our country has seen. I will speak up to the bullies and I will stand next to our marginalized communities. I will continue to teach my children love and tolerance. My hope is one day, there won’t be a “normal” box – that one day “The Trump Effect”, will be nothing more than a small footnote in our nation's history.
Ask yourself this: What could make you a target? What could someone bully you about? Maybe you are infertile. Maybe you had an abortion. Maybe you are in recovery. What is stopping the slippery slope from sliding down to you? Who will be there to speak up and out for you? Ask yourself why you stayed silent when you could have spoken up for the others. Fear? Indifference?
We, as a country, are better than the Trump Effect. I have to believe for the future of our children, we are better than this.