This week I am working at Vacation Bible School. My boys are attending, and I am working the snack station. It is a fun and easy job, helping with the snack activity and seeing different groups of children every 20 minutes.
Today, I noticed that many of the children have writing on the backs of their name tags. Most simply say 'peanut allergy' or 'lactose intolerant'. Some, though, say things like 'takes Claritin' or 'takes Focalin XR' <--that is one of my sons; but the thing is, he hasn't taken that particular medication in a year. His also says 'has ADHD', which is true, even though I know I didn't put that on the VBS sign up forms. Since it's at his home school, I figured they'd know that.
Even though no foods containing peanuts are ever served, I suppose it's important information to know if a child has a peanut allergy or any allergy really. I saw another girl who had 'Down Syndrome' on the back of her name tag, even though that was pretty obvious. Another girl had 'type 1 diabetes' on the back of hers - probably super important to know.
As I was talking to Slim and his group at snack time, I noticed a boy in his grade flip his tag over and read 'Leukemia' on the back. Even though I know that boy has been battling Leukemia for a year now, it took me by surprise to see it on the back of his name tag. He read it with matter-of-factness in his voice.
Between the ADHD and the diabetes and the cancer and the allergies, I started to think about labels and what they mean and how long they stick with a person.
For about a year after Joey died, I was "Joey's Mom." Not Slim's mom - Joey's mom. And Joey had died. Those went together. "You are Joey's mom. Joey died." It was stated as a fact, not as something they were trying to tell me that I didn't know. Since the child telling me this was usually in first grade, I would smile kindly and say, "Yes, we miss Joey."
I met another mom working today whose family had moved out of town and then moved back. Her son was in first grade when Joey and Slim were in kindergarten. When it came up that I had a son who had died, she said, "Oh you're that family?! I remember that boy."
I wonder sometimes how long we're going to be that family and Joey is going to be that boy. And I wonder how long that Leukemia label will follow Slim's classmate around. It made me kind of sad to think about it because it will have to follow him around for a long time. Many times, even if a child survives cancer, he will have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with another cancer in later life.
Some labels you just can't help.
Other labels get stuck on you like some mutant, gummy sticker that just won't come off no matter what you try.
He's the weird kid.
She's the girl that's always so negative.
He's the class clown.
She's the drama queen.
Labels are hard. Sometimes they are necessary for safety sake or for education or special treatment sake.
But sometimes they glare, and that's all a person can see.
Sometimes people put their own label on a person.
Even though Slim has been tested, but never diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum, many people assume that he is. I remember being in tears just days before Joey died because one of the golf instructors at the club angrily said to my babysitter about Slim, "What's wrong with him? Does he have Autism?"
And another woman, a special education teacher, was quizzing Slim the other day asking him leading questions and kept saying, "Yep, he has high functioning Aspergers."
So what? Does it have to be labeled? What does it matter? I have struggled the past two years since Slim was originally tested and diagnosed with simply ADHD and a bit of anxiety. I didn't believe it then, even though that's all I wanted it to be. But if having him tested again and labeled with something else gets him more help, then that can't be a bad thing. Can it?
Unless that's all people see.
I remember when I was in high school in sociology class with my favorite teacher. We were talking about what we would say to the police if a crime had been committed. How would we describe a person? No matter what we said, our teacher would tell us those were just labels that society puts on people. That people were merely their physical descriptions - male or female, brown hair or blond. People were not even African American or Caucasian or Hispanic because those were just labels that we put on each other.
And it's true. Think about when we were growing up. Not only have labels changed, there weren't even one-fourth of the labels that we have now. Now, it seems like everyone has a label - ADHD, depression, anxiety, PTSD, autism, cancer survivor, veteran - the list goes on and on and on and on.
Perhaps labeling everyone helps those people get the services they need, and that's a good thing.
But perhaps it also makes other people look at them differently, see them as only capable of fitting that label.
Wouldn't it be great if people could look past the labels and see the person underneath?
The person with complex and fascinating emotions?
The person with the unique ability to see and experience the world differently?
The person with limitless energy and passion?
A person who was simply either lucky or fought really hard?
A person with a rich family history?
As human beings, we label each other enough. At first glance or after talking to someone we deem them ugly or beautiful, kind or cruel, quirky or cool, weird or super funny.
Some labels we impose on ourselves. I'm so fat. I'm such a loser. I can't do it. I'm a failure.
Those up there ^^^. Those are mine sometimes. Those have been mine for a long time. Some I gave myself, some I heard someone say once. And I can't shake them.
Labels. I really hate labels, but they're there no matter whether we like them or not or someone gives them to us or not.
What's your label? Was it self imposed or given to you? What do you think it says about you?