Peeling Labels

The other day I had a conversation with a couple of ski team parents.  The mom was relaying a funny conversation she’d had with their 11-year-old son. He was urging her to dress more like a “ski mom.”

“He wants me to dress from head to toe all in black,” she said waving her hands in the air, “like those moms from the (insert here – name of rival ski mountain).”  I felt her husband’s eyes scan me from head to toe. I didn’t have to look down to know what he was seeing – I was dressed all in black, from hat to ski boot.

“So I told my son, I like color,” my friend went on, pointing to her lime green baseball cap and matching jacket, completely oblivious to my attire. I could feel her husband trying to telepathically kick her shin. I decided to save them the embarrassment and motioned to my outfit. “So you’re not into the all black look, hun?”

Her eyes slightly widened as she registered my outfit. Then she said, “Oh, no, no.  That’s not the kind of black I meant at all.  I mean, the more, you know, designer black look.”

I looked down at my shapeless men’s ski jacket and knew exactly what she meant. Yet her husband went on to offer further clarification. “Yeah, you’re not the designer-y type at all.  You’re more,” he thought for a moment,  “more of a crunchy, sprout-y ski mom.”

I am?

I can’t tell you anything about the rest of the conversation, because I was stuck on crunchy and sprouty, picturing the alfalfa sprouts growing in a glass jar on my kitchen counter.

Later that day I sat in the ski lodge, still thinking about that conversation and remembered the creative writing lesson I’d taught several years before.

march1After passing out pages of blank white shipping labels, I asked my students to write down any labels that had ever been placed on them – by others or themselves – good, bad or somewhere in between.  After writing down all the labels (me, too) we peeled off the stickers and placed them all over ourselves.  Words like Weird, Strange, Brainy, Cool, Crazy, Stupid, Cute, Ugly, Chubby, Sweet, Selfish, Creative, Athletic, Funny, Odd, Quirky, Artistic and Wild covered our shirt sleeves, pant legs, shoes and foreheads.

Then came the fun part. We examined each of our labels and decided what to keep and what to peel off, tear up and throw away. I have to say, there’s nothing quite like watching a 7th grader rip up the labels Freak and Weird and proudly wear Funky, Imaginative and Unique instead.

And with that in mind, I dug down to the bottom of my ski bag and pulled out the fancy orange scarf with the designer label that I’d never worn. I looped it around my neck and felt the possibility of myself sprouting into something else.

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