Labels that Can’t Be Taken Away

We recently toured Bea’s new school for next year. Outside a kindergarten classroom, a sign read, We are authors. We are artists. We are learners. We are kind. We are mathematicians  We are helpful. We are friends.

danbo-2105835_960_720I just wrote about claiming labels and how some labels are so hard to claim. For me, those big labels that call up people who have worked far harder than I have for them: writer, historian, activist.

I just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The first part of the book is a memoir of his years in several Nazi Concentration Camps, including Auschwitz. Frankl describes an initial experience of reaching the camp, when every possession is stripped from the prisoners. For him, his most important physical item was his early manuscript on his study of logotherapy.

What Frankl learns is that those who survived found labels that cannon be taken away. They found something beyond their present circumstances to cling to. His hope of seeing his wife and unborn child again as well as the hope of rewriting his research kept him alive.

This has made me reflect on those labels that I have so much trouble with. Perhaps I need to focus on labels that hold far more truth, that can’t be taken away. Even the precious label of mom could be taken, but what is deeper than that?

Friend, loyal, loved, loving, connector. These are all labels that go far beyond anything that can be taken from me.

Our last MOPS meeting was yesterday and before it started our leader gave us a heart with beloved written on it. She had us put it over our name tags as a reminder that above all, we are beloved.

That’s a truthful label that cannot be taken.

What are some true labels you need to remember? How do you separate those labels that can be taken from those that are far deeper?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “truth.”

The Power of Claiming a Label

When I was teaching, every year Mrs. Nichols would visit our school. We would gather on the uncomfortable pull-out bleachers in the gym and try to keep our students from I like myself!I like myself!I like myself!fidgeting too much. Mrs. Nichols was an energetic woman and would throw candy to kids who were sitting still and listening. Her job was to get the students excited about our yearly fundraiser of selling cheap wrapping paper in order to fill in funding gaps. (Lesson? Always vote to increase school funding.)

Before she would start the real assembly, Mrs. Nichols would have us all stand up, do a little dance, and repeat, I like myself! I like myself! I like myself!

This little dance and mantra made me highly uncomfortable. At 8-years-old, most of my students did like themselves. Why would they need this cheesy reminder? It wasn’t until I was complaining about Mrs. Nichols to Frank that I learned this was a common motivational speaking trick. The whole fake it till you make it or name it and claim it mentality.

As teachers, we practiced this in the classroom. When I started teaching, the trend was to call our students writers and artists and mathematicians and historians whenever we were teaching that particular subject. Sometimes it felt natural. When we were in the midst of writer’s workshop and working toward publishing our stories or an anthology of poetry, I found myself calling my students authors and poets.

Other times it felt completely fake. I had trouble calling my kids mathematicians as they struggled to remember the difference between quarter-past the hour and a quarter of a dollar. Learners sounded more natural at that point than mathematician.

The other day, Bea told me that she was going to be a leader during the day and an artist in the evening. I asked her what she would do as a leader and she responded, Oh, you know. Leadership things.

Maybe naming it and claiming it with kids feels unnatural because they already do it so well. My students set the bar high. If their dreams become reality, I’ll have taught future Broncos quarterbacks, millionaires, and movie stars. And maybe those dreams will come true. But most likely not, which is totally fine.

I struggle with claiming my dreams. I still flounder when talking about writing or the places I volunteer. I second guess my dreams and interests and label them as hobbies or just something I do during nap time.

There’s power in labels, certainly. We just celebrated Mother’s Day and I know for a lot of women, this is a label filled with conflicting emotions. In these intense years, it’s a label I feel like I have earned and one that is continually defining me. It’s a label that I’m learning means so much more than simply giving birth to two girls.

I’m learning to balance labeling things I know to be true, things I hope to be true, and the reality of what is true. I’m learning that, when I am confident with certain labels about myself, I am modeling confidence for my girls.

So, as Bea strives to be a leader, I’m encouraging her leadership skills now by calling her a leader. I don’t use the label flippantly, but I am on the lookout for those times when she is exhibiting those powerful skills. And I’m learning that the more I name her talents, the more confident she is in claiming them.

What are your views on naming and claiming labels? What are some labels that come naturally for you? Are there others you’re wishing to claim more confidently?

Defining the Spirit of a Word

I come from a very creative family. My dad is an illustrator and my brother is a storyboard artist. My mom has an amazing eye for color and design and is able to make a small shift that turns an awkward space into an inviting one.

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My mom made that dress!

When I hear the word create, I often think, Not me!

I laughingly tell people the reason I studied art history is that I love art but am not creative. For my birthday, I asked for a calligraphy set and signed up for Skillshare to work on my penmanship. I struggle to find time for myself and am drawn more toward the couch and a book than the practice of lettering.

I’m learning that when I take words – like create – literally, I am never good enough. I’m never going to live up to the image of a creative person that I’ve constructed in my mind.

But, like so many words, when I take the spirit of them and find their abstract nature, I find myself as well.

When I think about creating space for community or creating a safe place to talk and listen, I connect with the word. When I think of creating an environment for my girls to grow up questioning and grappling and thriving, I can see myself in that word.

I wonder how many words I discard as not applying to me because I take them in such a literal sense. I’m not an activist; not a writer; not an artist. But when I remove the literal meaning and focus on the spirit of these words, I find myself and grow into that descriptor.

How would you describe yourself? Are there any labels you’ve wanted and learned to grow into?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “create.”