Parenting in the Age of Labels

We have become a label dependent culture. Food these days must meet multiple label tests beyond the main list of ingredients. There is even a label for people who check labels: “conscious eater.” That’s right, reading about what’s in your food while not in a coma is worthy of a special name.

Conscious eating means eating healthy, or to explain with yet another label, “eating clean” (not to be confused with washing your hands, rinsing lettuce or using a napkin). The prevailing “conscious” view is that a product should not be eaten if there are too many ingredients on the label that cannot be pronounced.

Contrary to the next logical assumption, there is no label yet for “comatose eaters” who obliviously shovel food, or perhaps whatever else is in front of them, into their mouths. Personally, I think reading about what’s in your food while in a coma or some alternate state of consciousness is most impressive and deserving of a label.

However, it must be assumed that the food that does not pass the label test and is therefore rejected by eaters in a conscious state, must be consumed by comatose eaters…or subconscious eaters, or postmodern foodies, or Freud? I’m not sure. I just know that anyone operating from an enlightened state of awareness and an ability to enunciate only good ingredients will live forever because they are tapped into their id or ego or speech class. Wait. I’m getting confused. What were we talking about?

Oh, yes, labels.

So we can also examine a product for the USDA organic seal, gluten status, sugar levels and fat content. The meaning of each label can get complicated. Based on my habits, I’m not sure if I’m a conscious eater, a comatose binger, or a partially sedated grazer. I think I have been all 3, though not at once, throughout my life. But, I prefer the label “dynamic digester.”

All this effort and research required to merely eat while conscious is so exhausting; it makes me want to slip into a subconscious state. But, I can’t do that because then I will eat everything in front of me, things I can’t pronounce, and I won’t be able to fit into my jeans that are labeled, “skinny.” That’s right; they actually call themselves, “skinny.” If a person did that, they would be shunned. People can say they have a high metabolism, they’re small framed, they have good genes, but it does not usually go over well if they go around declaring themselves “skinny.” But, somehow, jeans can get away with flaunting their low denim mass index. Seriously, what has become of a society where a pair of jeans can have an eating disorder or just generally act smug?

Anyway, as if there are enough labels we already have to encounter in life, parents must also face an onslaught of labels with everything they do with their kids. If you sit back while they play, you’re “free-range.” If you sit with them and talk to them about their toys, you’re a “hoverer or helicopter parent.” You can never simply be yourself and apply your own style of parenting. There is always a spectrum of labels that you slip back and forth into with each move you make, including, “good parent” aka reading to them all day long (even when your head throbs and your stomach screams for food) and “bad parent” aka letting them watch cartoons while you grab a Tylenol and fix dinner).

We are assigned so many parenting labels with every action that it can make a person crazy. When the pressure gets to me all I want to do is run to the kitchen and eat the first thing I find in the cabinet. I tell myself I’m still in the “good” category because I read the ingredients to the Dumpling instead of letting her watch her favorite cartoons. I don’t know if I correctly pronounce whatever is in the salty, crunchy items I grab from a box, so I can’t qualify as a conscious eater. Instead, I descend into yet another label, an off-shoot of comatose eating: “playground, train set, storytime, label-fatigued, munching.”

Oh well, at least the jeans hanging in my closet have never looked more svelte and clean.

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