Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Please Don't Label My Child


            Please don’t label my child. I’m speaking literally. I want no red flag, gluey stickers stuck to his shirt, no name badges plastered to his collar. I’ve scraped my way through a houseful of window stickers. I’ve chiseled away blue masking tape bordering a freshly painted wall. I’ve picked the price tag from a gift, one flyspeck at a time. All of this was only training for the Happy labels.
            Mark’s first-grade teacher hit on a plan to inspire good behavior; she gave a Happy Face at the end of each day’s class to those children who followed the rules, who were good helpers, the ones who refrained from attacking their classmates. At the close of the first day of her experiment Mark was puffed up with pride as he sported his shining yellow smile. He wore the label all evening. At bedtime he whipped off his shirt, turning it wrong side out. The next morning I washed and dried the shirt, wrong side out. Turning it to fold, I discovered a faded viscid circle on the front where the Happy Face had been. Tentatively I scratched at the goo. Sometimes these things roll up quite neatly. No such luck. I tried a little household cleaner. It made no impression. I searched for another cleaner, one that would dissolve the glue and not the shirt. I found nothing. I grubbed through the kitchen drawer for another label. Sometimes one gluey item picks up another. But not this time!  In the back of my mind I recalled another day, another child, and chewing gum on Sunday pants. That time I had used an ice cube. I fetched the ice and rubbed at the circle. It produced a cold, gummy circle. I scraped with a knife. Nothing!
I pondered the problem. The heat of the dryer had caused a metamorphosis. Adhesive and fabric were blended into one. (Undoubtedly it was an experience such as this that led to the discovery of iron-man glue that holds two thousand pounds with one tiny drop.) I decided to test the theory of reversal. I folded the shirt and stored it in the freezer. This generated a whole new line of household humor:  “Mom’s working on a new method of ironing—freeze-dried.”  “Watch out for the stew.”  “What’s the new roughage?” 
            A few days later I took the shirt from the freezer. The gummy spot had become a frozen circle on an icy cold shirt. That glue refused to rise. I threw the shirt in the bottom of the laundry basket. Here it joined a second shirt with a rubbery round.
            In the course of two weeks I collected three such shirts and developed a new form of evening amusement called grit-picking. Time to change tactics! I fired off a note to the school:  “Please don’t label my child. But if you must, try tattooing his arm. It’s washable.”

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