When It Says Loco, Lazy, Loser On The Label, Label, Label

kidslabels

Do you have lovely eyes?  A noble nose?  An infectious smile?  Sometimes it’s hard to see our own outstanding features, even if they are obvious to everyone else.  That’s because some of us can’t see beyond the big, invisible labels on our foreheads.

We sang How Great Thou Art at church the other day.  The beautiful, timeless song inspired me to lift my eyes and my voice to heaven.  The choir is looking for new members and for a fleeting moment I thought, “Maybe I should join.”

I dismissed that idea as quickly as it occurred.  I’m not the “singer” in the family.  That’s Judy, Libby, and Bill.  I’m the “smart” one.

Kids are assigned their roles very early in life.  Maybe you could read before the other kids: you’re “smart”.  Maybe you walked and ran easily: you’re the “jock”.  Maybe you kept your crayon scribbles inside the lines: you’re the “artist”.  Maybe you cried or raged or couldn’t sit still: you’re the “difficult child”.

Our first labels come from our families.  These are honed when we get to school and new ones are added.  Those early labels have a way of sticking.

I liked being thought of as “smart”.  Having that reputation makes school easier.  There may not really be a “permanent record” that follows you from grade to grade, but teachers hear things.  They’re only human.  When they expect you to do good work, they give you the benefit of the doubt.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Einstein.  I’m reasonably intelligent but, as I discovered as I started swimming in bigger ponds, there are a lot of smart fish in the sea; many are lots smarter.  But that was the label I was given as a child and it stuck, inside and out.

“Smart” was great, but I wanted to be other things, too. In junior high and high school, I would have traded all my “smart” for “pretty”, “popular” and the Holy Grail of teenage labels, “cool”.

I secretly longed to try out for our high school’s musicals, but I was scared.  Besides, I wasn’t a “singer”.  “Singers” took chorus.  I took band.  All the “cool” kids were in chorus and they got all the parts in the plays.   My place was in the orchestra pit with the rest of the “band nerds”.

If being stuck with a label like “smart” can be limiting, how much worse are the labels that demean and hurt?  Labels like “troublemaker”, “lazy”, “stupid” or just plain “bad”.

My mother tells the story of a conversation she had with my little brother, Jim, when he was a kid.  Jim was the funny goof-off, the jock, and the popular one.  He wasn’t known as the greatest student. They were talking about some trouble he was having with a subject and, frustrated,  he blurted out, “School is really hard for me.  I’m not “smart” like Bill and Peg!”

That’s the kind of attitude that can define your entire life if you let it.  Jim didn’t let it.

In the early years he may have internalized the labels that the school stuck on him, but somewhere along the line he ditched them.  Jim defined himself.  He got a degree in business, worked for a few years and then decided to go to dental school.  The “goof-off” is the only one of us nine siblings with the title “Dr.” before his name.

So much for labels.

Labels can be a convenient shorthand to identify strengths and weaknesses, but should be used carefully.  We have to guard against the tendency to limit ourselves – and  others – to the neat, little pigeonholes we’ve become accustomed to.

After all, you’re not free to fly if you’re stuck in a pigeonhole.

**this embedded commercial right under here is part of the post**

p.s. As with all my siblings, my sister Libby can proudly wear many labels advertising her many strengths and talents.  But the label associated with her for life is from a commercial for canned goods from our youth.  I can still hear that jingle in my head because we sang it at her ad nauseam, “When it says Libby’s, Libby’s, Libby’s on the label, label, label, you will hate it, hate it, hate it on the table, table, table…”  Sorry, Lib.

p.p.s.  In case you’re wondering; no, I’m not joining the church choir.  I’ll let my voice soar from the safety and anonymity of the pew.

**this embedded commercial right under here is a real one. You might want to look at it anyway. WordPress has to pay the bills around here somehow.**

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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75 Responses to When It Says Loco, Lazy, Loser On The Label, Label, Label

  1. bigsheepcommunications says:

    So true!

    Like

  2. mistyslaws says:

    Loco, Lazy, Loser . . . wait, how did you get close enough to read my label? 😉

    I was also a band geek, but mostly because I couldn’t carry a tune in a clarinet. Not that I could play a tune ON a clarinet, either, but I had to do some type of music, and that was it.

    I feel like my label has changed over the years as well. Although I still think I am the “smart” one of my family (doesn’t take too much . . . I’m the only one of my core family that even graduated college, let alone grad school), I feel dumb on a daily basis. So then what does that make me? I’m not the pretty one, or the athletic one, or even the funny one (maybe a little). Sigh. Hey Peg, how do you figure out what’s on your label now?

    And I definitely think you should join the choir. Go for it, girl!!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Hey, I played clarinet as well! That’s a good question – how to figure out the label now. Funny would DEFINITELY apply to you. What other labels do you want to have?

      Like

  3. The other reaction to labels, especially as a person establishes their independence, is to go overboard trying to prove the label wrong. That can be just as detrimental and limiting to personal growth.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      That’s a VERY good point. You notice this with child actors who have reputations as “good” kids. They seem to go overboard to ditch that “stigma” when they become adults.

      Like

  4. ginweb.1@juno.com says:

    That was so interesting. It made me remember, and I could almost hear my mother’s voice saying, “You’re a smart girl; you’ll figure it out”. Guess it did not occur to me that she was giving me confidence each time she said it.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      That’s true. Often a label will give us something to live up to. On the other hand, I’ve known people who figure they might as well live DOWN to their labels: “They think I’m a troublemaker, might as well not disappoint.”

      Like

  5. Gosh, we’re so alike! I was labeled the smart one, but I always wanted to be a world-class (or at least decent) singer.

    As a sociologist, I know all about labels. I spent a whole lot of energy during the first years of my illness (Chronic Fatigue) trying NOT to be labeled as a sick person. I was a person with a few “health issues.” I talk about that a lot in my book. It was so important that people saw “Lorna” not “Sick Person.”

    Like

  6. It’s probably best that I don’t know what my label(s) is/are.
    Although my not having a clue might be a clue.
    🙂

    Like

  7. rachelocal says:

    I’m not sure what my label was. Maybe “the sick one.” I was sick all the time as a child. Or maybe I was just lazy.

    Like

  8. Al says:

    You’re right. It’s amazing how people want to “slot” you. I remember when I graduated from high school (1961) I was voted “most likely to write a blog when they’re invented.”

    Like

  9. This was in my daily quote email this morning: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” — Lao Tzu

    I found it somewhat relevant to your post. Then again, I’m having a scattered day so maybe it makes no sense at all. Whatever…peace out.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      It’s TOTALLY relevant. In fact, that’s the point. We get these labels early in life and then we internalize them and let them limit who we might be. Good work, o scattered one!

      Like

  10. Go Jules Go says:

    Oh, you’re so right, Peggles! Those labels stick like the price tags on a pair of new champagne glasses that you’re trying to wash without breaking and… wait, what was I saying?

    Oh right. Join the chorus! Join! Do it!

    I was always the artist, my sister was the social butterfly and my brother was the smart one. I actually think it affected my sister more than anyone, because she felt like she had to prove herself academically. And like your brother, she now has more formal education than the rest of us! Wait. I keep forgetting my brother just finished law school [where he got a free ride for getting perfect LSAT scores… did I mention he was the smart one?]. Show off.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      PERFECT LSATs? He deserves that label for sure!

      It’s so tempting to fall back into those family roles whenever we get together. My “little” brothers still call my older sisters and I “the big girls”, even though they’re both well over 6′ tall.

      Like

  11. Margie says:

    Thought provoking post, as usual!
    I have three kids – two were smart in school, one was ‘blonde’. Blondie isn’t blonde any more – she lost all her hair to cancer. But she got past that, got two university degrees and is in the nursing profession. Anything can happen if you shrug off the labels.

    Like

  12. Can someone please tell me what my label says? I can’t see it.

    Like

  13. Audrey says:

    Such a great reminder, Peg! Those early labels are hard to shake off but so worth the effort. I remember someone telling me that growing up isn’t so much about finding yourself as defining yourself, and it’s stuck with me. There’s a freedom in knowing we can choose who we become and not just stumble upon an identity that was long ago saddled with labels.

    Like

  14. Oh my God my daughter’s name is Libby! And I’ve been singing her that jingle for all the 16 years of her life. lol

    Like

  15. My labels have changed over the years, but there’s usually one there. The nice thing is when people from different parts of my life cross paths. One will have perceived me as the sensitive artist, another the bold jock, and still another the smart guy.

    The other night, after I posted a sarcastic comment on Facebook, a high school friend commented that she didn’t remember me being a curmudgeon. I’m pretty sure that was because the word was too tough to spell and didn’t fit on my label, or maybe it was because in high school, I was either a sensitive artist or a loud mouthed jock.

    Like

  16. My ‘labels’ from my mother followed me through life and crippled me emotionally for a very long time. I tried very hard not to put labels on my kids, and even more so tried not to think of them in terms of labels because that would have shown in how I treated them. For the same reason, I try to not label people or put them in boxes when I meet them or after I know them.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      That’s a great thing to be aware of. I think I just fell into the habit of it as a kid and needed to THINK about the process as an adult. I don’t believe I labeled my kids, but it’s hard to know.

      Like

  17. susielindau says:

    That’s so true. I was the difficult one that asked questions. My sister was the quiet one and my brother was the baby and could do no wrong even when he did!

    Like

  18. Elyse says:

    Peg, You’re Irish. Of course you can sing!

    My sister Beth was the smart one, my sister Judy the sexy one, I was the cute one, or the funny one. Or Dad’s favorite.

    Our family spread out across the country and we each found our own niches amongst folks who didn’t know our labels. We were all better off that way. We all became the smart one, the sexy one, the funny one.

    Like

  19. TamrahJo says:

    I’m the smart one who runs like a pigeon – to this day, I never run in front of anyone – even if the house is on fire…LOL

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Oh no! Then you really WERE pigeonholed! 😉

      Like

      • TamrahJo says:

        Yuppers! But since reading your post, doesn’t bother me as bad – I sang in choir – won a couple competitions for solos in school – currently working up courage to do karaoke with an ole’ school chum who loves it and keeps trying to shame me into it -(Pigeon has turned to Chicken – why is it always birds?)
        I’m thinking maybe I should actually (gasp) jog around the neighborhood and you should join the church choir – what doesn’t kill us is supposed to make us stronger – LOL

        Like

  20. Well done Peg. I was labeled early by my adopted mom, having nothing to do with me but what she assumed my first mother was. Over time the label list grew and I worked diligently to live up to some of them, others just came naturally 😉 It is odd though, the ones they missed are the ones I gave myself and over times perhaps the ones that stuck.

    I suspect childhood labels though they may grow smaller, stick with us through our lives. Whether hurtful or otherwise, they form some core. What my second mother thought was foundational, though it did not ultimately limit me it did direct my early life and thus early choices.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Congratulations on casting your own shadow. That’s so well put – those early labels are “foundational.” If they’re negative, we can surely rise above them but they do, in some part, form who we become.

      Like

  21. Oh, I love Elyse’s comment. So true. Now this corny song comes to mind ♪Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above…don’t fence me in♫ Maybe that’s why I live in TX. You may not be in the choir, but what is it about your posts that make me go away humming? Have a great weekend! Hope your team wins.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Thanks so much, Georgette! You just want to show off your mad, musical note embed skillz. Maybe it’s because I spend a great deal of my time either listening to music, humming or outright singing. Now I’ll have that corny sons stuck in MY head all day, so…thanks.

      Like

  22. Tori Nelson says:

    Dr. Goof-off. Love this post, Peg. I’m the middle of 5 kids and found myself being the “low-maintenance” one of the group. We had the sassy baby sister, the pretty older sister, the renegade brother, and had I stuck with my allotted role, I’d still be the boring, quiet one. Now I’m boring but loud… because I believe in breaking the mold 🙂

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      You know, Tori, that’s so true. In a family full of strong personalities, there usually IS one sibling who almost gets assigned the “low-maintenance” role by default, just to provide some breathing space. Especially if that kid doesn’t like a lot of drama.

      Good for you for breaking the mold..which I’m sure NEVER< EVER included the word "boring."

      Like

  23. Libby, libby, libby on the label, label lable – we did sing that like crazy – most annoying.
    My mom decided all the kid’s labels – unfortunately she stuck the wrong ones on the wrong kids – she never admitted it and always was trying to force us into those roles her whole life. So weird – didn’t she ever look/listen to us? It was a relief to leave home.
    “Oh, all you have to do is make a joyful sound…there’s no rule from God you have to sing perfectly” – a quote from my dad who went to church for the singing – not so much for the lecturing

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I used to sing “hate it, hate it, hate it” and Libby would cry. I can’t believe what a vile monster I was to my baby sister! Thank goodness she doesn’t remember that part – must have blocked it out.
      I KNEW there was a reason I liked your Dad.

      Like

  24. Sandy Sue says:

    I can’t *believe* you weren’t the “cute one” with that precious cherub’s face. Oooo, I want to pinch it! eh hem, sorry.
    Join the choir. Really. Do it.
    And I think my label says “WTF?”

    Like

  25. So Many Whys says:

    I LOVE THE POST, AS USUAL! I also think of myself as the smart one… Well, I’m still 15, but I get along with teachers really well and I have great grades. I wouldn’t say I’m not cool, I just don’t really care about the way I look or about who likes me or not.

    Like

  26. Mary K. says:

    As usual, your blogs are very thoughtful. I laughed out loud about the yearbook comment and started to cry about the deceased sibling-jeez-what a roller coaster. The Libby on the label felt terrible that she didn’t make it to Chicago but we had alot of fun shopping so all the snow worked in my favor. Got a dress for Katie’s wedding that Lib helped pick out. Keep up the wonderful writing” oh smart one.”

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Lib just called and said you look absolutely great in the dress, so I don’t mind so much giving her up to you for the weekend (although I’m kind of jealous – thrift store shopping without me???)

      Thanks my dear, dear big sis. Love to you!

      Like

  27. Libertarian says:

    Probably due to the constant ribbing during my formative years, I was labeled the wistful, shy one who would cry at the drop of a hat – if only Mom and Dad knew the horrors I’d lived through!!! I am happy to say that after years of therapy, I can now hear that song without sobbing uncontrollably. Actually, I often use references to the maker of the beloved pumpkin pie filling when introducing myself. As Libby is not the most common name in the world, I say, “I’m Libby, like the canned food” – it always gets a laugh. So, as the good Lord says, He works all things for good!! And Peg, you are right, I’d forgotten how mean and viscious you were… thanks for the remainder – and not so smart to broadcast it on your blog, sissy!

    Like

  28. pattisj says:

    That’s a lot of siblings, Peg, and a lot of competition! I’m glad you were smart and started a blog so we could meet you, and provide new labels! 🙂

    Like

  29. How in the blue blazes did I miss this gem of a post? I had to do a double-take at the date it was oringinally posted. Great, great post, Peg. Of course, growing up with all my brothers, we all had our labels. I was the smart nerdy unpopular one, two of my brothers were ‘troublemakers’ or ‘hyper’ and the rest were the very ‘popular’ ones.

    You absolutely SHOULD join the choir! If you love to sing, that will come through in your singing. I was in chorus back in high school and college and I was the furthest away from ‘cool’ and ‘popular’ you could get. Don’t let your labels define you now, Peg. C’mon…do it!

    Like

  30. Dana says:

    I was the ‘smart’ one too, Peg. My younger sisters were the ‘creative’ one and the ‘pretty’ one. Somewhere along the line, I learned that I may be book smart (sort of), but I *definitely* haven’t been blessed with a lot of street smarts. Those type of smarts fell square on the shoulders of the pretty one. (And the creative one.) Le sigh.

    Like

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