Labeling

We all label the people around us. We don’t think about it, but we do it. I have a friend who is smart, loving, generous, witty, and terrifyingly competent. I have a husband who is… Ya know, on second thought, the Internet is No Place for a marriage, even if most of the labels are good ones!

I have a daughter who is smart, creative, beautiful, charming, precocious, funny, kind, dramatic, emotional, demanding, persistent, and bossy.

Yikes!

That’s a ton of labels for a very little girl. We’ve all been given this idea that labeling people is a Bad Thing. We’re not supposed to stick these labels to people we love, we’re just supposed to love them. I wonder, though, if that’s true.

We send our children out into the world and they will acquire labels, some good, some bad. Nerd. Geek. Class Clown. Dork. Bully. Jock. Smart. Invested. Funny. Sweet. Confident. Athletic.

They’re going to be labeled. If we don’t give them labels at home, what do they have to stand up to the less positive labels out in the world? If we don’t give them words and practice defining themselves, do we set them up to be defined by someone else out there? Are labels also identity forming?

I think they are. I think that there are times where giving yourself a new label is healthy. I think that providing good labels to our kids is healthy. I think that giving those labels to kids who are going to struggle to fit in is even more important.

Because let’s be honest here: Life is not going to be a cakewalk for my girl. She’s too smart and too persistent and too likely to do things her own way not to end up in someone’s cross-hairs at some point. I know that. So, I’m trying to start early and give her the tools to be herself. Even in the face of opposition.

Which brings us to skin. And pens. And writing on yourself.  Or others.

I used to get into so much trouble as a kid for writing on myself.  I never understood why. Skin is just so lushly blank. It’s a beautiful expanse for art. Written or graphic. I still don’t understand why it’s supposed to be taboo to decorate it. I must be missing part of the mommy code on that one.

Which is why when I was making my grocery list and Fiona started jumping on my lap wearing only panties, her little baby soft legs exposed, I drew a heart on her thigh and wrote “I Love You” in it.

She was enthralled. She wanted me to read it. She wanted to know what it said. Then she wanted more. So we added words to describe her. We wrote smart, and kind, and funny. We wrote courageous. We wrote persistent. We wrote creative and loving. I added a couple more hearts and I love you’s.

Then she asked me to write patient.

I paused. I’m not sure if it’s come through in this blog yet, but I don’t think my daughter is patient. At all. She’s actually more of a do-it-right-now-my-way-and-I-won’t-scream type, if you really want the truth. At least from where I’m standing.

But, as I was writing, I’d been thinking about labels. About the way that we hear and internalize the things that people think about us. About the way that we hear and internalize the things that people reflect back to us that we think about ourselves. So, I asked her, “Are you patient?”

And, she looked at me and her eyes got very big and she very firmly and dramatically said, “I am very patient. I am patient all the time. I wait and I wait and I wait.”

So, I wrote down patient. Because maybe she is. Maybe my beautiful, kind, funny, impatient little girl is being patient with me every second of every day. Waiting for me to catch up, waiting for me to come play, waiting for me to realize that she’s little and just-a-second is a long time.

After we were done decorating her skin with words, I thought about labels for a long time. I thought about the labels I give my friends, my family, myself. I thought about the labels that I give strangers and I realized that I want to change the way that I label people, myself included. If I wouldn’t be willing to write it on the surface of the skin, then maybe, just maybe, it shouldn’t be a label that I’m using.

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“I have a bug in my mouth.”

“I have bug in my mouth!” This is what Fiona told my friend yesterday when she came over for coffee. Fiona was with us, rather than at preschool, because she is sick. Run a fever, hacking cough, everything hurts sick. Which sucks.

BUT, everything is more fun with a three-year-old. Even illness.

Granted, she is whiny and miserable, but she’s also hilarious.

Last night I told her that it was probably time for bed. She looked up me and said very sincerely, “Mommy, my cough is tired, but not the rest of me. I’ll play for a while.”

Now, I try not to stress things like bedtimes too much, especially when she’s sick, so I let her stay up and got another chance at hilarity a few minutes later. After reading a couple stories and playing with Legos for a few minutes she turned to me and said, “Mommy, my germs are tired. We should put them to bed.” Then with a pause and a yawn added, “And the all of me, too.”

Life is better with a thinking three-year-old. Even sick life.

 

The Best Questions

As yet, we haven’t hit the why stage and I’m a little disappointed, but not as much as I thought I’d be. I think that it’s because she doesn’t think in terms of simple why and because her vocabulary is large enough that she can as more specific questions. My lack of disappointment though? That comes from the questions I do get asked.

It’s raining here. I know, it’s October, rain isn’t that special. Except that it hasn’t rained here in over three months. It didn’t rain at all in July. Or August. Or September. It was dry. It was hot. It was, once or twice, cloudy. But it did not rain.

When you’re only three years old, three months is a long time. In Fiona’s case it is 7.6% of her life. Not quite long enough to forget rain, but long enough to make it different. Interesting. Question worthy.

This morning as we were walking out the front door, late, struggling to get rain boots, hats, jackets and backpacks organized, she asked me a question. I was glad I heard it over my inducements to come-on and pick-up-your-feet. She turned her face up to the gray sky and with raindrops sprinkling her nose asked, “Mommy is the earth spinning?”

Gob-smacked, blindsided. She asks the best questions. “Yes, Baby, the earth is spinning.”

She’s still not walking forward, but now I don’t care. I’m waiting. Listening. Ready to see where we’re going. “Mommy? Why did it spin to raining?

I’m awash in great ideas. In dreams. In stories. In paintings. I’m awash in emotion. I live in a drowning sea of joy and sorrow and fear and triumph. In friendship and loneliness.

Fiona is a part of all of this. She and I have been so tightly together that the act of having her away from me has forced growing pains. I feel adrift. She is starting the inevitable process of moving away from me that will end in her leaving home and living a life out of my sight. An invisible life (at least to me) that shapes her and changes her and makes her into who she is. Who she will be.

Such a terrifying lack of control. She’s already made friends whose names I’ve had to learn. Tricks and songs that she’s taught me. Games of which I know neither the rules nor the goals. She knows things that I haven’t taught her.

At the same time, there is the terrifying, exhilarating sensation of being just me. For the first time in years I’m having brief patches of time where I’m learning not to have one ear listening for trouble or pain or need. I’m disconnecting. Decompressing. Relaxing.

And it’s waking me back up. Which is good.

And bad.

I find myself restless. I find myself frustrated when I have to stop creating and go back to being mommy. Not because I don’t want to be mommy, but because to slow down a creative idea is to risk it being derailed.

I find myself raging against housework.

I find myself torn between frustration at spending time on any activity because I want to spend time on all of them. I feel guilty for doing those things that I take joy in but find impossible when she’s home while she’s at preschool and thus making it so I have to do things like housework when she’s home. I feel guilty for the anger that guilt makes me feel. I am a person. I have the right to do things that make me happy.

And I paint. And I paint. And I paint.

It’s an obsession. It’s a passion. It’s like the silken soft gel of the paint transforms into pure emotion to be petted and pulled and lathed onto the canvas until a thought or a feeling has broken free of me to live on it’s own.

So, what was the point of all this? I’ve been feeling too guilty to write this blog when Fiona is home and awake and I’ve been to obsessed with the siren call of colors when she isn’t.

If you miss me, if you wonder where I went, don’t worry. It’s a combination of growing pains, mommy guilt and a frantic obsession with paint.

My two most recent pieces.

The Winter Tree. 2ft x 3ft

The Always Tree. 30″ x 40″

On Reflection

Upon further reflection, and a week of observation, I have concluded that I am a spaz. A wacked-out control freak. Fiona gets her fair share of turns and attention. I’m so glad I didn’t say anything.

Let’s hear a round of applause (why do I keep trying to type applesauce here?) for the observation room and taking the time to observe and understand. Conclusions are not for jumping on, ladies and gentlemen!