When I was a teenager, I was one of those not-worth-a-second-glance kids. I lived on the fringes of the crowd. I was neither popular nor cool. With my long red hair parted into two pigtails, my very freckled face, my bony knees, and sensible clothes, I was positively ordinary.
One day at school I was grabbed by the arm. “Come with me!” a girl ordered, as she dragged me across the playground. Her group of trendy followers tagged along behind. “There! What did I tell you?” she cried in triumph, as she lined me up alongside another girl. “Don’t they look the same? They could be twins.”
I looked at my ‘twin’. Did I really look that ordinary? Apparently I did.
I was ordinary, not only in looks, but in every way. I was intelligent but not brilliant. I did what was expected. I never made waves. I didn’t feel special at all. I had this inner urge to break free, to be different, to be noticed, to be ‘someone’. My opportunity arrived when I left school.
Would I be different if I changed my appearance? I cut my hair. Then I grew it again. I permed my straight red locks into frizz. Then I cut my hair again. I cut it short, and even shorter into spikes. I wore tight jeans. I wore short skirts. I wobbled on heels. I bought some golden ankle boots. I tried out this fashion and that one. But while I was busy being different, I stayed safely within certain boundaries. I wasn’t really a rebel at heart.
I still had conventional dreams. I wanted to get married and have 3 or maybe 4 children, and live happily and conventionally ever after. But I was going to live that life on my terms and no one else’s.
I did get married. I found someone who didn’t think I was so ordinary after all. In fact, he thought (and still thinks) I am very beautiful. We settled into what I imagined was going to be a typical, happy marriage, but things didn’t work out the way I expected.
“I’ll never be a Catholic,” I told Andy, when he asked me to marry him. (He is a cradle Catholic.) I wasn’t going to be told what to do by a religious institution. I wanted to be free to believe what I wanted. I wasn’t going to be constrained by rules and regulations. I remembered my school days. I didn’t want to conform. I still wanted, to some extent, to be different. Regardless of my declaration, Andy married me anyway.
But a few years into our marriage, I was contemplating a step I had adamantly denied I’d ever take. I became a Catholic. Not only that, I forgot about only ever wanting 3 or 4 children. I had a whole tribe of them. Things certainly turned out very differently to what I’d planned.
A typical happy marriage? Well, our marriage has been very happy, joyful beyond anything I imagined. But typical?
A few years ago, Sophie had to have an operation to have her adenoids removed. Booking her into the hospital involved filling in forms and answering lots of questions.
“Are you the child’s mother?” I was asked.
“Are you married to her father?”
Thinking it would make the whole process much shorter, I added, “We’re married to each other, and have never been married to anyone else. All our children are both ours. We’re just an ordinary family.”
“Ordinary?” The receptionist raised her eyebrows. “You’re certainly not ordinary in this day and age. “We get all kinds of families coming through here. Traditional families aren’t ordinary at all.”
And Catholic families aren’t ordinary either. In a time when everyone is choosing to go his own way, we find ourselves unconventional as we accept the Church’s teachings and practices . You know, that makes me smile. It amuses me a little. It feels just a little bit rebellious. We are doing the unexpected. We are different.
I am Sue. I seem rather ordinary. No more golden ankle boots and wobbly high heels: I wear conventional clothes. No more perms or spikes: I have had a classic haircut for years. I have a husband. We’ve been married for over 30 years. I am a traditional Catholic. Every Sunday you’ll find me at Mass.
Rather ordinary? No, I am me. Without even trying, I am different. So are my children. You are too. And that’s the way it should be because that’s how God created us.
Being who we are meant to be… Don’t you think that’s what unschooling is all about?