What is "normal" anyway?

Looking back, since a young age, I would never have characterized my perfect puppy as “normal.” From the moment I met him, I was exceedingly careful with him. I socialized him carefully, made sure he never felt wrong, and always tried to make him feel safe. I tried to show him the joy in life and instill in him how deeply loved he is. In my heart I knew he was a sensitive boy and, deep down, probably knew it was something more complex. From being so terrified of moving vehicles at 8 weeks that he was not able to walk outside of the house without a long period of careful training to screaming all night the first three nights of his life with me, an ever-growing list of idiosyncrasies began to form. As he grew, I continued to push them away as simple border collie “quirks.”

In some ways he was “normal.” But the stack of quirks continued to grow. And when I finally let myself begin to add them up, I slowly began to see, began to accept, that these were more than just quirks, more than just behavioral oddities. On our journey to where we are now, we have been through a lot. We have had our serious share of highs and lows, sometimes all in the same day.

And in my heart, he is always going to be the most extraordinary, sweet, loving, genius, brave little boy that I will ever be so lucky to have in my life. He is stunning, nicely structured, has the most perfect ears and handsome head, is incredibly fast and deeply brilliant and talented. But I’ve realized that sometimes, the best compliment anyone can give him is the word “normal.”

And watching my boy on our hikes these past two days, that’s exactly what he appears. And that is HUGE. And not without a lot of love, trust, and work on both our parts and of course, a lot of support. He can navigate other in-tact males getting a little too intrusive with a simple avoidance and walk away, he can wag tail circles at an intense, stiff dog and talk his way out of the situation—when the dog starts to go after him—with pure body language and zero vocalizations, he can manage meeting and navigating a not-easy group of five dogs on a solo hike, he can have a relaxed body outside of a dog park and show no concern as dogs stare and howl at him through the fence. He can play wild chase games with his big brother in the mornings, he can spend hours in the car or the crate when he needs to, he can nap in the afternoon, he can relax on his back on the bed without being overly aware of the sounds around him, he can look “normal” in so many ways.

Through all this, I have begun to realize that maybe the word “normal” has gained a deeper meaning for me, almost a badge of pride. And maybe it’s time to change the definition. To me, “normal” doesn’t mean “conforming to a standard.” It will never be something that “occurs naturally.” But it’s something that means progress. It means all of our hard work is paying off. It means he’s happier. He’s feeling safer. He’s able to enjoy more and more of life, instead of worry about it.

And even though “normal” has gained a whole new meaning to me, I think it’ll always be important to remember that he’s not. But at the end of the day, he’s better that way.

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