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September always evokes a certain amount of nostalgia. I’ve received a lot little pushback for my enthusiastic welcome of the cooler weather, crunchy leaves and of course boots and sweaters. These things are all lovely and what every home design magazine with a front porch and a pumpkin are made of – but I believe there’s another reason for my strong feelings towards this particular season.

Pumpkin Spice Lattes of course!

Just kidding! But I do love me a good PSL!

Back to school. I realize it’s been a few years since I’ve actually gone back to school, but every year there was just a little something about the anticipation of a fresh school year that made me excited. Being the office supply nerd that I am, you understand why this was a thrilling time in my life. And the year we finally had lockers- HELLO. Every year one of my best friends Sara and I would “design” our lockers, walk to Starbucks get a drink and then hike to Staples to buy our supplies – most important – our locker “furniture”. Shelves, sticky pads, magnetic mirrors – all important to our academic endeavors. (Seriously, we had the coolest lockers – legendary really. A closet, a lunch locker, a binder locker – we new how to make friends with the powers that be – be in control of locker distribution that is)

Ok enough about my slightly ridiculous locker bragging. A big part of going back to school was I could be whoever I wanted to be. We’d plan our “style for the year” (“A little bit vintage – and a little bit boho” was my grade eight style – even though my budget could afford two pairs of pants and three shirts). I always remember trying to reinvent myself every year. The punk year – purposely chipping my nail polish and wearing 10000 bracelets. The Blue Crush year – all things Billabong and Roxy and smelling of coconut. Yes there were many decisive fashion years.

Fast forward to 2016. The air is changing, the leaves are golden and there’s still that little nostalgic piece of me that reminisces about back to school. The anticipation, the planning, the fresh pens. But it all gets me thinking..about who I am now, to who I was then and who I thought I’d be now. If you’d asked 15 year old Amy – 27 year old Amy would have life figured out, especially since she was married, with a baby. Obviously that meant she had life figured out and knew who she was. Hah.

I would say on one level, absolutely. I know my core values, I know who I am, I know the place I am operating from. But on another level, I must confess – there’s a 15 year old trying to define my identity. This is what I mean by that – some days as I’m heating up my baby’s frozen cubes of homemade puree I think “I’ve got this mama thing managed – I’m totally the stay at home, nurturing mama”, other days as I’m chucking two or three pre-made squeeze packs of food into an overflowing diaper bag and running out the door I think “I’m the on the go, busy life mama”. Sometimes I pat myself for being active and enjoying working up a sweat and drinking something green and leafy afterwards and other days I’m like “I fully 100% identity with every meme on the internet talking about a love of all things taco, pizza and Netflix”. I could go on, somedays being the easily agreeable wife that is sweet and gentle, and other days being the stubborn but hilarious wife.

Do you see it?

I seem to be still putting myself in boxes. Boxes that define who I am. The boxes may be decorated with more mature labels – mother, wife, fitness level, career, etc. but regardless of the label – the label belongs on a box – not a person.

The other night as I lay my head on my pillow and contemplated all my life choices, replayed all of my embarrassing moments, and tried to solve world hunger (as one does before finally drifting off to sleep), I was struck with a thought, one that I actually rolled over and fumbled for my phone in the dark and made a note so I wouldn’t forget. It was one of those ones that I’m sure when said aloud was read with Morgan Freeman’s voice, or the wisdom of Gandolf, or maybe Dumbledore, you know – depending which one of those series you like more. Ready?

“Why do I have to be in a box?”

Right. You can send me my Pulitzer Prize now thank you very much.

It was so simple. I’m sure I’ve thought it before, but for some reason I suddenly saw it in fresh light.  Who told me I need to fit into boxes? More specifically, just one box? I suppose it started in the school yard – we all know about the cliques “the goths, the geeks, the popular crowd, the magic card players etc.”. Your identity was shaped from the swings onward. Where did you sit at lunch? That’s who you are. The end.

But why?

Why do I only have to be one? Why do we like to put labels on people? When I truly look at these labels – they’re surfacy – they don’t truly define who I am. At the end of the day will my lack of organization, dietary choices or love of stationary be the things that people will remember me for? I hope not. I hope they remember the deeper things. It’s time to move past the playground cliques and into our own identities.

So why the labels? Why do they hold so much power? Why can’t I love working out, but sometimes I love chips? Why can’t I be the mom that gives my child homemade dinners but isn’t afraid to grab some pre-made stuff when on the run? Some days my life flows like clockwork and we are out the door on time, dressed well with my makeup done – other days we are 10 minutes late, I’m doing my mascara in the car and my baby isn’t wearing pants (hey, it was either her or me – babies without pants seem slightly more socially acceptable). It’s the ebbs and flows of life. Each time I try and put myself in a box, there are limits to what is allowed in the box and I feel pressure when I step outside it.

Why do we continue to try and shove ourselves into boxes?

While media continues to scream titles, the in-lifestyle and it-girls, the current dietary trend – wouldn’t we feel a lot less pressure if we chose to go ahead and live each day as it comes, uniquely as we are? You can love schedules and checklists but sometimes you love spontaneity and adventure.  Today is a day of green smoothies, homemade meals and ridiculous, stubborn bickering with my husband. Tomorrow is a day I can’t get french fries off my mind but I also enjoyed a great hike with a friend and spent way too much time watching cute animal videos. All of these things are me, not just the ones that fit a preset box, they aren’t exceptions to who I am, they are all parts of who I am. All these little things make up who I am and can only fit neatly into one box, the box of Amy. No one else.

 

The Challenge: 

What if we lived life less concerned with the restraints and pressures of titles and more out of a place of convictions and values – imagine how much less guilt we would feel when there was no pressure to bend into in a box or stick to a pre-crafted identity? If we just lived from a place of rhythm and values. I value my faith, I value my family, I value my health, I value my friendships. Those are the things I carve my life around, not preset identities like categories on Netflix. Can you spot it? The difference? To choose to fashion a life around the things that we value, versus the values that come prepackaged in a box we believe we need to fit in? There’s flexibility, there’s room for grace, there’s room for new things, to discard the old things that don’t seem to hold much weight in who we are becoming. We don’t have to hold on to dead weight and drag it around because it’s part of something we feel we need to be.

Put the boxes on the the shelf.

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