Updated: Oct 15, 2021
I was kicked out of Holland.
No mean feat from a country where weed and prostitution are legal and regulated.
It’s not something I put on my CV.
I was a Rotary Exchange student in what the Brits call a Gap year.
My year lasted 3 months.
That’s why I leave it off my CV. It brings up more questions than it does promoting any strengths I could purport.
It could read like a school report card:
Language Arts: A :very talented with the provocative vernacular (means I learned the swear words first)
English: D :although obviously fluent, constantly correcting the teacher is seen as a disruption. A total disregard for the Queen’s English v her native tongue: American. (He drove me up the wall with his ‘Americanse’ - I never spoke English according to him)
PE: A- : an all round great athlete ready to try anything. Says the word Fuck a lot. (The teacher had to look this up, therefore the minus.)
Social sciences: F : is suspicious of authority, will not conform, and is much too popular with the troublemakers. (Why not? They were the interesting ones)
Every kid has a time where they test the boundaries and mine was in Holland, I guess.
I chose The Netherlands so I could continue with my Judo and to be fair, it was the dojo that was my safe haven there. I could be myself at the dojo, not a version my host families wanted me to be. It wasn't a Canadian. They didn't want me to teach them about Canada. They just wanted me to learn how it was to live there. I need to give a big shout out to my sensei there, Eddy van der Pol, who was strict, but extremely fair and told it to me straight. Bedankt Eddy!
I landed there on my 18th birthday and was immediately wrapped in cotton wool.
Straight from the airport to a tourist hotspot where they dress you up in cultural costume… in July….over your clothes and which consisted of a wool dress, apron, sleeves, hat, neck scarf and wooden shoes.
If I hadn’t already a body image problem, that mirror image and subsequent tourist photo sealed the deal.
It was suffocating. Especially for a person who had been travelling the world on their own since she was 15. And for a country which seeming had no rules, I had to abide by 4 big ones:
The 4 D’s - no drinking, no dating, no driving, no drugs and the unofficial one by the Exchangés - don’t get caught.
I got kicked out for ‘dating’.
The host brother took an unhealthy liking to me, (he followed me everywhere- even when I moved on to the next family) so instead of getting him gone, they got me gone.
When they told me I was on the next flight home they asked if I wanted anything in my final hours. I said, ‘Yes - a joint, a pint of beer, and a BMW, please. Might as well go out in style!’ They were not amused.
So I was labelled the troublemaker.
And if you asked any of my former teachers, they would have told you that wasn’t a label they would have attributed to me.
Curious, yes. Trouble? No.
I was speaking with a friend the other day after a Wellness course on athlete identity. We spoke on how important it is to recognise each facet of our identity, and not to put all our eggs in one basket under the title of elite athlete. This, as well as manage any labels given to us.
This is the tight rope we walk: identities we want to live by and the banner we want to stand under, having chosen them in one way or another. And then the labels we are given which we either decide to accept and appropriate or not.
I went from Olympian to girlfriend to wife & stepmom to mum in the space of 18 months at the speed of FOMO (fear of missing out, a common retired athlete trait).
So let’s unpack that:
Olympian - IDENTITY: proud to be, worked hard for, want to be known for (sometimes)
LABEL: super human, scared of nothing, super fit, super strong, basically a Marvel character.
Girlfriend - IDENTITY: proud to be, excited to be, dedicated to being
LABEL: Neil’s ‘bird’, ruffler of feathers, a curiosity
Wife - IDENTITY: head over heels in love, dedicated to, a partnership, soulmate
LABEL: homemaker, potential baby maker, possible nagger, ‘the other half’, mate
Stepmum- IDENTITY: transparent, fair, honest, protective, no former experience but trying my best for all concerned
LABEL: potentially wicked, or so the stories go, pinch hitter, mum but not mum.
Mum- IDENTITY: protector and defender of all those under her roof, creator of lunches, dinners, costumes and school dioramas as well as the occasional: I-forgot-my-PE-kit note, master boo-boo kisser
LABEL: money dispenser, totally unfair and knows nothing of the ‘real’ world. Oh, and soooooooo embarrassing! 🙄
So I’m thinking during this unpacking that what we make our identity is really the ideal we aspire to. The labels are the societal constructs and both can burden us with the responsibility to be or not to be.
And it is a question of whether we just sit back and stick the label on or educate people to who or how we want to be treated? #educatedontappropriate
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