I have always been a bit odd. Growing up I was tall, gangly, and uncoordinated. Rather than running on a soccer field or besting my time at swim meets, I memorized Shakespeare and wrote plays about Venezuelan ping pong tournaments. I knew I marched to a different drummer (or as my mother used to say "an entirely different band") and in truth I didn't mind. But the older I got the more I realized that classrooms were divided between odd and middle of the road. Between quirky and predictable. And between popular and fringe. I'd like to say that in the ensuing years I moved into the latter but each time I would begin a new school or a new job within weeks I could feel the slow descent into "otherdom" begin. So it should have come as no surprise that I felt like such an outsider at my son's first pediatrician appointment.
I creak open the door. "My labor was 14 hours with the first, 8 with the second," one woman chirps. "Are you still pumping?" asks another. I slink my way over to the front desk. The receptionist greets me with 20 pages of paperwork to fill out. I take a seat.
The other mothers look me up and down. "You're on the wrong side of the room," says one. I'm confused. "Your child doesn't look sick." I glance up at the wall. Of course. There, plain as day, is a sign distinguishing one side of the room "Sick" from the other "Well." How could the mother of a 2 year old not know that?, the other mothers' looks seem to say. I grab Jack's hand and move away.
Settled into the "Well" side of the room I dive into the paperwork. Like every doctor's appointment I have ever been to I list all my medical oddities and allergies. I try to remember my husband's. I get a little fuzzy on my mother, father, and sister's health histories, and when I hit the in-laws section I totally blank. Does my father-in-law have hyper-tension? My mother-in-law mild arthritis?
Resolutely I hand my stack of forms back to the receptionist. "You need to answer all of these questions," she reprimands. "But my son is adopted," I reply.
At my words another mother's head snaps to. She eyes me and my son, turns to her friend, then gives a "well that figures" shrug. I rush back to my seat and pull my son onto my lap, hugging him firmly.
In that moment I think of every medical form my son will fill out through his life. I picture lines of irrelevant scrawled across page after page. I think of how much that label of "adopted" will define who he is through schools, through jobs, through relationships.
But then I think, how much do other's labels truly affect who we are or what we become? Maybe I was imaging those other mother's reactions. Maybe they told me to move out of concern that my "well" child should not become "sick." And maybe that mother's dismissive shrug was merely a "my kid's adopted too."
How much of our labels are self imposed? And what would happen if we let them all go?