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.
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.