Labels in London: Again
Updated: Mar 29, 2021
Let's talk labels again. I think I have talked about this subject before, but just like all the "lessons of life" that get laid on my doorstep...I don't always get them the first time. Anyone else? So, let's get into it shall we? We unknowingly are required to label ourselves every, single, day. Whether you are filling out forms and checking the boxes of which category you fit into, describing your mental state to your friend back home, or picking a hash tag that best denotes your content, you are labeling your life. It's not about conformity really, its just our brains attempting to process the incoming data. Here are my labels summarized in a clinical form : Married? Yes. Sex? Maybe? Current Symptoms? Mostly tired and crazy. #pourmeagin #makeitadouble.
Early Saturday morning, Zac said something that provoked my thoughts for the rest of the weekend. He does this after cocktails. Always. He loves dropping truth bombs and talking about the meaning of life while I, in my gin-soaked-fog, am trying to peel off my pants that have become like a Chinese finger trap. After our annual Friday virtual night trivia game with the neighbors, one that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, he mentioned how we had referenced ourselves as "southern." I believe in the conversation we were trying to drive home the point that we love hosting and being social. We feel that describing ourselves as "southern" best describes two kids up for a good time, but also looking for a good meal. This adjective hits all the high notes of what we are all about. At the time I said it , I hadn't thought my comment all the way through. Until later, when he illuminated that the term has zero meaning here. Zero. What is "southern" to people who don't know how satisfying a cold Natty Light and hot plate of gumbo can be while you watch football on Sunday? Bless their hearts, I bet they haven't heard of velveeta either. That's a shame. This took me aback because I hadn't even thought of it, nor had I thought how much it would crush me to have my "southern card" revoked. Who am I if not the Southern Belle? What am I if not the girl from the sticks? Here's the problem, I move a lot. Obviously. But every time I have ever moved, being from Louisiana is just as important as my name. If my overly teased, bleach blonde hair wasn't everyone's first visual clue, my penchant for CCR, cheap beer and full course dinners cooked with exorbitant amounts of butter often give me away to new neighbors. If I want to go straight for the end zone, I can just open my mouth and try to give directions where I will immediately get a, "you aren't from here are you?" Living abroad for just this short amount of time, I see myself in a new and unavoidable light. Everything from how I run my home and the over-the-top feeding and care of Zac, to my use of pet names like, "butter bean, darlin', and honey" is all just part of my southern soul. Even at our last duty station in California, the land of clean and healthy, I always managed to put a southern spin on things by adding sugar, butter, alcohol or just setting it on fire. This is how we do it. "Southern" is one of my favorite labels, right up there with "wife, mother, and get-away driver in a pinch." In total: I have the heart of a poet, the mouth of a sailor, and the tolerance of a sailor...anyone feel bad for the reputations of sailors?
But there is more, much more, and it's the worst kept labeling secret. It is a part of why labeling occurs in our lifestyle. Just like moths to a flame, or more realistically, a fly zapper, southern girls find other southern girls. Finding one another is a cross between hunting and putting up the bat signal. When you see a girl in a sweat stained ball cap, loading their cart with mayo, meats, ranch and BBQ sauce. You know they are a soul sister. You give them a wink and note their license plate number after you follow them into the parking lot. (New friend) Sometimes, you stop them when you see they have on their Sunday finest: a jersey of their favorite player. You give a fist pump, discuss the bracket and then casually ask them for their address so you can add them to your Christmas card list. (New friend) Or finally, they hunt YOU. You catch a girl looking in your window before she knocks on your door to drop off a dessert and lovingly quiz you on your knowledge of so-and-so, from so-and-so who is friends with so-and-so. After you determine that you both know that person, or you at least pretend to know that person, they invite you over to their BBQ. The rest is a haze of alcohol, raucous laughter and recipe swaps. (New friend and possible accomplice.) I like labels. We all like labels sometimes because it is often how we find "our people." It makes it easy for us to grab that thing that we need off the shelf. "I'll take one southern soul sister to do life with please! I'll bring it back... Um, never!" In a world where we are label focused but also focused on trying to eliminate labels, what happens when you simply lost your label in your new life?
(Nothing like overalls and burning stuff. Note the brand, it's Southern and recurring.)
Sunday morning I got up and our conversation was ringing in my ears, It could have very well been the mixing of gin and whiskey during the trivia game, but I am going to believe it was the cerebral quandary that had me stumbling around like a blind mouse finding a light switch. I rolled out of bed and shuffled into my bathroom. (I want to note that when I moved into the cottage I did not understand the need for heated floors. Now I will never go back to living like a caveman with cold feet.) I looked in the mirror and mentally took in what I was seeing. Covid has changed my reflection a bit. My blonde hair has grown out over lock down, leaving a thick ring of chestnut to form what looks like brown tiara. If you are envisioning this, it's not regal at all. On this morning, the final wisp of my lash extensions are flicked away and laying on my cheek. Oy, I'm literally melting. Finally, my once sun kissed cheeks are pale from all the cold and snowy English days spent indoors. In this state, I think they might not just revoke my "southern card," they may take away my actual license believing that I am impersonating the girl in the photo. I can't say I would blame them.
Here is the part where I am going to walk out naked for all to see me. Not the fun kind of naked, but the naked that makes you feel like everyone is sitting in your high school bleachers mentally mapping out the cellulite on your butt. That un-fun, honest naked. I spoke to myself in the bathroom that morning. On this particular morning, I had to say it out loud to believe it. I put my hand up to the glass to cover my reflection, closed my eyes and tilted my head up to heaven. I sucked in air like I was about to go deep sea diving and I said over and over again... "You are more than your hair. You are more than your face. You are more than what you see. You are more than your home. You are more than your hometown. You are more than worth it." I just kept reciting this until I could look in the mirror and laugh. Which as it happens, occurred quite quickly after the kids started to knock on the door and ask who I was talking to. I wanted to bluntly say, "Honey, Your 'sane mommy' is talking to 'crazy mommy', could you wait and let them finish? I promise it will be best for everyone if you can just give them a minute to work it out. " Instead I said, "Mommy is cleaning up would you like to help?" This made them vaporize. I'm going to add "genus" to my long list of labels.
(Our Cajun Fam & Hometown Adventures. That's me getting Aunt DeDe rubs. Its a thing)
Nine months ago, I had lots of labels in the states that made sense: wife, mother, friend, southerner, military spouse, full time employee, hostess, seamstress, homemaker and the list goes on and on. In that time, I found a lot of my identity in those titles and when of the right mindset, that is not a bad thing. Hell, some of them are a badge of honor. Labels can help you quickly connect with others, express yourself and... create the perfectly concocted profile blurb. Of course, because we all love a cleverly worded bio. Bless my heart, I'm kidding. But when your world does a 180 degree tilt, this is when you need to squint and re-read the fine print. Labels are limited. Sometimes there won't be the perfect label to sum up what you are, where you are, or where you fit. Labels are fleeting. Most of them will come and go, be relevant or completely irrelevant given the place or the situation. Labels can be fables. Thats right, when you look in the mirror on a bad day, you may give yourself a label that is untrue. You may also give someone else a label they don't deserve. Labels do not equal truth, remember to be kind. Labels are complicated but unavoidable. We are humans and we have been hard wired to label things. From the stone ages when we had to label dangers to our safety, to today where we have to label dangers to our sanity. It's better to find ways to live with them in a healthy way, then to fight against them. Labels are surface. I treat every label like the front door, like directions to someones house. It's not the whole story, ever. Labels are just the first step to knocking on the door and discovering a deeper connection that can't be labeled or defined. We are all so much more than the sum of our parts, the boxes we check and the categories we fall into, so don't get stuck at the surface. Finally, be comfortable in expanding and finding new labels. Labels can be empowering. This is an exciting way to look at labels. I had someone reach out to me and ask me if I would be interested in writing for them. My first reaction was to laugh. Seriously? This lady thinks I'm an actual writer. Then it hit me. I AM a pseudo discounted writer...I'll take that! Maybe one I'll take that label down and replace it with "Author." Who knows!? I want to keep everyone, including myself, guessing.
So while I am not willing to erase my "southern" label, mostly because I think it is engrained in my DNA, I can understand that it may not be fully understood or appreciated here in London. Insert another pivot here. So instead, I am willing to focus on some others: Wife, Mom, Traveler, Entrepreneur, Creative and Parole Officer. You read that right. I'm now limiting Zac's alcohol intake and pension for deep conversation after game nights. You're welcome.
Labels can be empowering.
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Love from London,