Everything is labelled these days.
You can't lift a jar of Dolmio off a shelf or open a Big Mac box without seeing an informative label which spells out in microscopic detail EXACTLY what's inside: the calories, the saturated fat, the salt, the sugar and so on. This information is there to help us to form an opinion about the product before we've even delved inside the packaging to discover its contents.
Where some folks will undoubtedly be deterred by what a label says, others will want to rip open the packaging and explore what is inside regardless.
But, Big Macs and Dolmio aside, what happens when we start labelling people?
What happens when umpteen doctors, therapists and random strangers in the park decide that they want to label your child? What if they try to give him a label just to explain the way that he is on the inside? What his contents are like?
Well, I know all too much about this. And so does my little man Stan.
Many people have tried to label him over his five short years on planet Earth, but none have quite yet succeeded.
'Autistic' was the first label that was suggested. 'Lazy' was another. Some said was just a 'late developer' but others suspected that he had 'Aspergers'. My personal favourite however, was 'genius'...especially given that moments after a Health Visitor said that he was a genius, he pulled his trousers down and watered my Begonias right in front of her. Genius? ...The jury is out on that one.
Why do you ask, did people feel compelled to label him?
Because Stan is no ordinary boy....if there is such a thing as being 'ordinary' even. Some might say he is extraordinary.
Stan was slow to walk, slow to talk, slow to crawl, sit, stand- you name it. Every major milestone that most parents freak out about wasn't being achieved and naturally I was worried. Was it laziness or was there something else going on? Was I doing something wrong? Was it because I didn't read to him enough? Did I not take him to enough playgroups? Was it because he wasn't breastfed? (Yes, I'm still taking guilt-fuelled punches to the conscious for this one. Will they ever stop? )
Finally, when he was 3, I decided to take Stan to the doctor to discuss his speech delay. This was the starting point of a string of medical appointments to determine why he wasn't like everybody else. His diary became fuller than One Direction's and I became his P.A- ferrying him here, there and everywhere to be assessed, analysed, adored and criticised.
Stan eventually opened his little trap one day and said his first proper word: Honda. Ah! Just the word that every parent waits three years to hear! This was quickly followed by 'Mercedes' and then 'B.M Goo Goo Goo' ( we lived on a fancy street at the time and our rusty old Citreon Saxo was the eyesore of the neighbourhood)
Next came shapes. Where most people saw doors and windows, he saw 'rectangles' . Where others saw Mini Cheddars, he saw 'circles' and he wouldn't eat them if they weren't perfectly round .Bananas were 'crescents'. He would notice hexagons, equilateral triangles and dodecahedrons at every turn (and yes, I had to Google the latter- I am sure you will too now).
It got to the point that when asking for some Pringles, he would say 'Mummy, can I have an oval from that red cylinder?'.
Next came the alphabet (or what became referred to by my husband and I as the 'fecking alphabet'!!)
Stan was and still is consumed with an unrelenting passion for the alphabet and he has devoted HOURS and probably months to reciting it with fortissimo enthusiasm (hence the 'fecking'). He owns an abundance of alphabetised products in every form: foam, magnet, sponge, potato, pasta, wooden, plastic, riboflavin-infused...you name it- he has it! He recites it, he eats it, he lines it up in his bed and he puts it in his toy cars and pushes it around.
Just yesterday in fact, letter A and B successfully navigated Thunderbird 2 safely back from a dangerous rescue mission.
One day, my husband returned home after taking 3yr old Stan to nursery and told me that he had said the alphabet backwards. Of course I thought he was exaggerating so that night after bathtime, I said 'Z...Y'...and this is what happened:
He recited the alphabet in Russian and Spanish a year later....with the same Cockney accent.
The next all-consuming passion was for numbers (or what my husband and I refer to as 'fecking numbers'). He said them forwards, backwards, odd, even, in two's, 3's etc. Everything was counted and recitals were performed everywhere with his overly-expressive 'outdoor' voice (hence the 'fecking').
Stan's passion for numbers reached new heights when we went to Lanzarote on holiday last Summer. Rather than jump and splash in the swimming pool, Stan spent all of his time (and mine) walking around it instead whilst telling me what the different depth measurements were. There were eight pools on the complex...EIGHT!! Then, just as boredom started to consume me, he suddenly threw his arms up it the air and screamed 'It's SHITTY!!!!!' at the top of his tiny lungs.
A sea of startled German holiday-makers leapt up out of their sunbeds to locate the source of this aurally penetrating obscenity!
I was appalled. I was embarrassed. And then I realised that Stan was pointing at a numbered sign and was actually pronouncing the number 17...
...in Chinese Mandarin.
Embarrassment was eradicated by an avalanche of pride and I bear hugged him for having such a genius potty mouth.
(F.Y.I, Number 19 in Mandarin is pronounced 'Shitty-OH!!'....chuckle)
As wonderful and impressive as these things were, Stan struggled in other ways and this is what opened him up to a great deal of criticism from professionals. Everyone was quick to notice what he couldn't do....not what he could.
Yes, he could say the alphabet backwards but he wouldn't hold a spoon. Yes, he could read any book put in front of him and spell the word 'umbrella'- but he couldn't tell you what his favourite colour was as he was unable to express any personal thoughts or feelings. Yes, he could count to twenty in Mandarin, but struggled to put his shoes on....and his socks?- fugetaboutit.
Now he is five and many of his shortcomings have now become his strengths. The silent boy has become the boy who has so (too) much to say. The boy who wouldn't hold a spoon has become the one who spoon feeds his little brother. The boy who couldn't tell us how he felt has become the boy who tells us everything...including the length and shape of his stools. The boy who wouldn't eat broken Mini Cheddars has become the boy who will pick broken cheesy fragments off the floor and eat them...the '1,2,3 second rule' is a popular one in our shack.
As it stands, doctors still haven't decided on a label for him.
Is he 'autistic?'...maybe. 'Genius?'...possibly. 'Human'...definitely.
'Amazing?'...YES!- the most amazing in fact.
'Loved?'...more than anyone in the world.
Will it matter if I am told he is autistic? Or if I am told he is a genius? ...No.
A label doesn't change what is inside the box.
He will still be my amazing child. He will still be a beautiful, bright, alphabet-obsessed, Dorito-loving, Mandarin-reciting five year old with a big heart, a raging temper and an eye for clocking all of the fire exits in Marks And Spencers.
He will still be the boy who embraces his mother, manipulates his father, teases his brother and who refuses a plate of food if you serve it to him with your left hand and not your right. (The next Derek Zoolander?)
There is no label that will describe everything that he is. There isn't one for any of us in fact.
We are all completely unique and the more I think about it the more I realise that Stan doesn't even need a label....because he already has one:
He is mine. He is ours.
He is.... STAN.
P.S. If there was ever a Guinness World record for the most amount of times the word 'label' is used in a blog post then I think I have just won the title, surely?