I was briefly walking behind a mother and daughter in downtown San Francisco last week about midday. They were both very nicely turned out: The mother in her thirties, the daughter probably 8 or 9, in matching brown coats and matching mid-length haircuts. A pretty picture. The daughter was talking to her mother about something, and it was one of those conversations? Where one person says everything? And the phrases all end in question marks?

I thought of my own daughter, and how she and her brother and Karen and I all look so different, and dress differently, and how she likes to meow at me and paw at me as if she was a cat, sometimes even when we are out in public, even though she is already 12. It’s a habit that has annoyed me for too long, even though I know what it means: She’s showing affection, and she wants a hug, and her love of cats helps her express an emotional need she can’t express directly. But it’s unique, and it’s her, and I love her for it, annoying as it can sometimes be. Plus, she doesn’t speak with question marks at the end of every phrase.

And then it hit me, right there, with the force of a long-forgotten memory, that normalcy is overrated. That’s how I felt growing up, and it’s how I feel now. At some point along the way I had forgotten how boring conformity can be. Thankfully, my daughter came along to help remind me.

I went home that evening and gave my kids big hugs. “Meow,” my daughter said, looking up into my face and smiling her squinty-happy-cat smile.