Redefining the Labels that Define Me

It just so happens that over the past week, I’ve had three separate people ask me the same questions. “Do you like living in Monroe? Is it any different from where you lived before?”

My family moved here this past summer from another small-ish town, so in addition to my (obvious) answer — that Monroe is beautiful and charming and we’re all happy to be here — the only real difference, I told them, is that I wasn’t born and raised in ‘this’ small town. 

When I left home for college (more years ago than it seems), I remember the thrill of not recognizing anyone at Walmart — or let’s be real, it was not being recognized myself. No one noticed my car and reported its whereabouts to my parents. It was a sense of freedom, and that same feeling followed along with our move to Monroe. Of course now that I’ve met so many people through my work at the newspaper, I’ve begun seeing people out and about. But there’s still this comfort of being a little bit … anonymous. 

If I’m being honest, though, I haven’t enjoyed it quite as much this time around. 

Back home, my parents both grew up in that same small town. My mother was a teacher for 32 years, and my father was a realtor involved in several clubs. My stepmother is a nurse; my stepdad a coach. My mother has six siblings, and my dad’s side of the family is so prolific that there’s a valley named after them. My entire life, whenever I would meet someone for the first time, the odds were favorable they knew someone in my family — and more often than not, at least one of my parents. There was some pleasure in that, having a little bit of the path laid before me, so to speak. 

I guess I never realized how much of my identity was tied up in being their daughter, rather than just Emily. 

And goodness … then I got married and had kids, so I added “Ryan’s wife” and “Shannon’s mom” and “Cora’s mom” to my bag of labels. None of which apply here in our new town. There’s no real anchor for my identity here … 

What an intimidating revelation.

I recently wrote about what it means to be an adult, and perhaps part of that is letting go of the labels that define us; or rather the pre-determined labels that define us. It’s true, I’m a daughter and a wife and a mother and I delight in being such. But as Glennon Doyle points out in Untamed (a book I’ve referenced before), these labels are all dependent upon others. Who am I without my family? 

I wish I could follow with a creative and thoughtful list that proves just how perceptive I am. I want to say a list maker and chapstick addict, perhaps book nerd and music lover. And can our labels be things that we are not, such as olive hater and laundry despiser

But alas, I’m not that ‘woke,’ and I suspect I’ll examine this question for years to come. And of course my labels will change as I grow, as new ones emerge and others fade away. But there are two things of which I am certain will stick with me. This woman is a writer … 

And apparently just a small-town girl. 

* This column first appeared in The Walton Tribune on January 16, 2021 *

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