Everyone labels people. You may think you're a good person, but if you see a 30-something male wearing skinny jeans, you think "Hipster." If you see an elderly person shopping for toys and candy, you think "Grandparent." If you see a kid stealing toys from other kids on the playground and pushing and hitting, you think "Bully." And you might even think "Assholes" about the kid's parents.
And you may even label your own kid. If you're like me, the labels for your kids are "Go-getter," "Brain," "Beauty," and "Perfect." So when someone labels your kid in a different manner, you stop.
I went to pick up Norah from school the other day, and as I picked up her daily report card, I noticed it again read that she'd not eaten her lunch.
"Norah, no lunch today?"
She didn't answer, and instead showed me the toy she had been playing with. I stooped down and inspected it with her.
The teach responded, "Yeah, she's kind of a... picky eater."
I just looked at her. My daughter? A picky eater? My brain fought to answer politely.
"She kind of goes through phases. We're working on it," I smiled tightly.
I gathered up the kid and her stuff and we headed out. But my mind kept replaying it over and over.
"She's kind of a... picky eater." (echo: eater... eater... eater...)
Now, I know full well that Norah is selective in what she eats. Der. I feed her occasionally. I am very aware of it, especially since she used to eat anything given to her: beans, broccoli, artichoke, squash, books, crayons, anything. Then she slowly began refusing food. First it was broccoli. I vividly remember her pinching a piece with her thumb and forefinger, removing it from her plate, and saying, "Blech." I was surprised.
"Honey. It's just broccoli."
Now the only vegetables that I can get in her are canned peas (yes, canned) and sweet corn, if you can even count that as a vegetable. Meat? Fish sticks. (Not that I care about the meat aspect, but the protein is important.) Thankfully she still likes a few fruits, and of course she eats starches like rice and noodles, like every other toddler.
So why was I startled at the label "Picky Eater?"
"Picky Eater" conjures up images of a spoiled brat. A delicate little flower. A willful child. And parents who kowtow to every urge or whim of their child. This is not my child and this is not me. Norah is very happy and spirited. She tries new things all the time, without fear or even hesitancy. She's tough, not delicate. And, yes, I joke about my little perfect angel being a little perfect angel, but I'm not delusional. I joke about our house rules, but we're not permissive people who don't impose boundaries on our child. And I don't want people to think these negative generalizations about us based on one small aspect of our lives. The label "Picky Eater" grates at my nerves because it seems to attack our very essence.
Labels are tough. You can't help but label. I think it's in our DNA, to help us survive.
Caveperson: "Ug. That animal has pointy teeth and is looking at me. Must run away now."
But I think next time I see a kid push Norah out of the way so he can go down the slide first, instead of automatically thinking "Little Jerk," maybe I'll just take it at face value. The kid wants to slide really bad and at this particular moment, isn't thinking about taking turns. There's no other explanation for skinny jeans on men, though. Hipsters.