Earlier this afternoon, my youngest son and I made lunch together. We have a few precious hours alone each day after nursery and before school pick up, and I love seeing how much he enjoys helping me to cook. Today's lunch was poached eggs on toast. To my shame, I've never made poached eggs without assorted gadgets, but we got out the 'Basic Cooking for Total Dummies: Seriously, what sort of Moron are you?' book and poached two eggs gadget-free and rather beautifully if I may say so. My little sous chef buttered some toast (I'm learning to make my peace with the havoc he wreaks upon the butter in doing so) and we sat side by side at the table, enjoying our efforts. The sun streamed in through the window. He broke the yolk with a thick toast finger, and as it oozed deliciously around the plate, I looked at his happy face and thought to myself:
You are an idiot. You think of this boy as difficult to cook for. Fussy about food. Fine, you try not to say it in front of him, and you do as many of the repeatedly-offering-it-in-different-formats things you can bear, but still. You have labelled him as fussy. Sure, he doesn't like 'traditional' vegetables, apart from sweetcorn if it's in a tuna mayo sandwich. But he does like lentils, chick peas, kidney beans etc. He doesn't like eating pieces of fruit apart from bananas. But he does like smoothies and dried fruit. With food, with friends, with things to do, the boy has preferences. Likes and dislikes. And yes, part of your job is to keep introducing new experiences and encouraging him to try them, but you are not both failing if he doesn't want to try every time and if he doesn't love them all.
So from today I'm going to try and take off that label. I think at first it's bound to be a little like when you peel the price tag off something and part of the sticker backing stays put. Side note: does that make anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable? Especially if giving the item to someone else - I feel like the sticker suggests it's been bought from a bargain bin. As though other people have never seen price stickers and won't be familiar with the sticker remnant issue. Anyway, where was I?
Ah yes, removing his label. I'm all over that. I have to be. It's too heavy and restrictive a label for him to carry around his neck his whole life.
This got me thinking about the (good and bad) labels I apply to others, and those that may be applied to me. And in fact whether labels can be any use at all. Can there be such a thing as a good label? Or are they all intrinsically limiting and therefore bad? There are certainly some which I'd be happy to receive, and some which I'd hate. Can I accept the good ones whilst rejecting the bad? It feels like that should be my prerogative. Surely I should get to choose what baggage I carry? But maybe that's a cop out. Maybe you either refuse to get involved with labels at all, or accept what you get if you engage with them.
In my school days, 'clever' and 'funny' were labels which I was glad to carry. The 'clever' one could have been difficult, but fortunately I was at a school where it was okay to be clever, and aside from a few instances where I perhaps dumbed down to impress or fit in (usually when it came to unsuitable boys, sigh) it was a label I was happy enough to carry. It got buried a bit while I adjusted to motherhood. I think it was always there but became twisted round to face the wrong way, while I took a few knocks from those who were baffled that I could park a prestigious degree and career in order to be 'just a housewife'. Plus, it doesn't help the old grey cells when you're too tired to read much beyond the Daily Mail sidebar of shame. As for the 'funny' label, phew, that's a keeper. Motherhood, housewifehood, indeed probably all the hoods, are surely too hard to navigate without a sense of humour. Without the ability to see the funny side of things, I'd have been weeping into rock hard bowls of Weetabix long ago (seriously, how is it possible for a cereal to solidify so quickly and so terrifyingly stubbornly?)
During my school days, I gave myself a 'fat' label, which is unfortunate because looking back at photos I see that I really wasn't fat at that stage. The fatness came later, by which point I really couldn't see it because I already saw myself that way, if that makes sense. Although I slimmed down and reached my target weight last year, remnants of the fat sticker still remain. Hopefully this will be the year that I really scratch the last bits off and see myself as I am.
So what else? I like rules of three (hey, if it's good enough for Cicero...) so I've tried to find myself a 3rd positive label. I think it's going to be 'Sensitive'. Admittedly, this is a double edged sword. I like being sensitive to the feelings of others, reading a situation, considering how people may be feeling and gauging my approach accordingly. I want to encourage that sensitivity in the boys, to teach them that it's a useful - not solely feminine - skill to be in tune with how others feel, not just for friendships but in business too. Of course, the flipside is that it's very easy to get disappointed, rained upon, crushed. But I'll take that. For me, the good outweighs the bad, so I'll choose to carry it. Because I think in the end I do accept that labels are hung upon us (by ourselves, by our loved ones, by 'society') but we can choose what we keep and what we dump.
That's me, then. Labels facing outwards in a nice neat row. Clever, funny, sensitive. I'm happy enough with those. How about you? What labels do you carry? And which label(s) are you dumping this year?