“It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.”
― W.C. Fields
My name is Arianne, and I’m a cookie burner. I was labeled a cookie burner when I was in my teens, and haven’t been able to shake the title. Later, when I was learning to drive, I ran over a snake in the road. I could not live that down either. My family continued to find humor in the incident year after year. I thought this was particularly unfair. Should I, an inexperienced driver, have swerved into the opposite lane to avoid a snake? Besides, I contended to no avail, the snake was already dead. My protestations were useless. I was a cookie burning snake killer.
I don’t recall running over any more snakes, dead or alive, so the snake killer label seemed to fade away with time only to be revived at the occasional holiday get together. The cookie burner moniker, however, followed me around like a curse. Many items in the cookie or the general bakery item category suffered a similar fate when placed by me into the oven.
I know what you are thinking. Yes, I did use a timer. Inexplicably, the chiming signal did not register with me. I was completely deaf to it. I would swear it did not go off. So suspicious did I become of timers and a wider timer conspiracy designed to make me look bad, that I discontinued use of them completely relying instead on
my acute sense of smell to determine doneness. This approach yielded similar results. Cue the smoke alarm.
To make matters worse, our smoke alarm doesn’t just emit the obnoxiously loud, ear-splittingly high-pitched whine. It also says, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” in a decidedly accusatory, but urgently calming female voice. Taking it personally, I argue with it. “Fire, fire, fire,” it says. “It is not a fire,” I respond loudly so everyone in my home and also the neighboring houses can hear.
Why do I burn all of these innocent bakery items, sacrificing perfectly delicious chocolate chip cookie dough, yeast rolls, and cornbread to incineration? Well, I’d like to say I’m distracted with multi-tasking. Often I’m talking on the phone while folding laundry, listening to a podcast, and stirring chocolate pudding on the stove all at the same time. Distracted, sure. But isn’t this the state of every single person who is using the kitchen these days? Is it unreasonable to dream of myself wearing a pressed pink apron with hands pressed to my knees as I lean over to peer through the little window in the oven door patiently waiting for my cookies to reach the perfect golden state like a new parent gazing through the window at the hospital nursery at her baby with a state of confidence that says, “I just know you will come out all right.”
No, such dreams are a waste of time. I burn the cookies because an expectation was set for me years and years ago. It was like the Emperor of Domestic Tranquility touched a scepter to my head and declared with certainty, “This girl will be a burner of cookies.” I took the title to heart. If that’s what everyone thought I was, it must be true. I burned the darn cookies, because everyone, even me, expected it.
Not so damaging to be a cookie burner, except to the cookies, but what if you are given the title of “stupid”, “lazy”, or “weakling”? Labels can be very hard to remove once they are stuck on. Were you given a label, or did you give one to yourself? Has it affected your life negatively? Take a moment to think about it. Once you figure out your negative labels, make a concerted effort to cast them off and give yourself new labels of your choosing. I’m hoping my kids will have a chance to decide on their own self given labels – ones like “good friend to those in need”, “girl who is good at math”, or maybe even "excellent cookie baker". In the meantime, check out the song, "Hall of Fame" by The Script, which beautifully encourages rising above labels.