Normal & Appropriate

“-25. Feels like -39.” ~ my smartphone on Sunday, December 29, 2013

My husband comes from a big family. Enormous by my one-sibling standards. He’s the youngest of 7 and they procreated and then their procreations procreated. On the day I married Frank, I inherited 13 nieces and nephews, and 4 great nieces and nephews (a number which has ballooned by 8 in the years hence).

I love his Bergland clan. They are some of the kindest, gentlest people I know. I feel lucky to be included in their number. It’s taken me years, though, to handle a full-on family event.

In my family, a normal gathering is of 8 or 9. We might have an occasional outburst from an excited child and the cat might jump in the basket of paper and ribbon, but that’s about as crazy as it gets.

McLean Christmas 2013 019

Get 40 plus Berglands together and it is chaos. Loving, happy, kind chaos. When they’re in full swing – eating flatbread, playing cards, and telling stories — after a bit, I feel like I need to go sit in a corner, put a blanket over my head, and rock.

Berglandia Xmas panorama 009

Frank’s family just takes all the noise and chaos and children and food in stride. For them, it’s totally normal and appropriate for family gatherings to go just like this.

The morning after the Bergland family Christmas this year in northern Minnesota, we woke up to sub-zero temperatures. Seriously sub-zero. My phone read “-25. Feels like -39.” I grew up in New England. I went to school in Maine. I’m no stranger to winter and cold, but this? This was completely out of my realm of experience.

Frank and I went for a walk just to say we did. We put on long underwear, wool hats and mittens and wrapped soft scarves around our faces. We pulled on heavy socks and boots and our warmest coats with Obi Wan Kenobi hoods. After about 20 minutes, our skin was tingling. We had white halos of frost. Frank even had frost on his eyelashes.

Berglandia continues 013

After breakfast, our boy took a cup of hot water, threw it off the front porch and it exploded into snow before it hit the ground. Damnation. All these years, I thought that was just Minnesota trash talk. But no, for them, it’s normal and appropriate for water to freeze in midair on a December morning.

It’s got me thinking: what’s normal and appropriate in my life? What do I take for granted just because it’s what I’m used to? Vegetarian food. A house that’s almost always quiet. The freedom and uncertainty of being self-employed. The likelihood that I could wear flip-flops in January without risk of frostbite.

Like David Foster Wallace’s famous “This is Water” speech, whatever is normal and appropriate for us is the water we swim in. It’s easy not to notice the water when it’s all around us. It’s my intention to bring awareness to my “normal and appropriate” and to make conscious choices about whether or not this is the particular body of water I want to be paddling in.

What is your water? What is normal and appropriate for you? Are you consciously choosing it or did it just happen? In these last days of 2013, I invite you to investigate the question and inquire into what you want to be swimming in in 2014.

  1. I love this!! You just made my cry! So thankful for a great aunt like you!! We Couldn’t be luckier! Love you!

    • We are all so lucky to be together. Even if I have to occasionally go for a walk in the snow to clear my head! Love you right back. (and hope to see you in the cities before we leave MN!) xo Auntie

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