Last Updated on June 28, 2022 by Rebecca Huff
Are you defined by a label?
Maybe you even have a label on the bumper of your car or maybe you wear a t-shirt with your label. Are you a soccer mom a SAHM a WAHM or maybe a crunchy mom? Did you label yourself or did someone else slap a label on your motherhood? You don't have to be a mom to receive a label. As women, we tend to get labeled a LOT… If you've ever been labeled as a mom, welcome to the club! Moms have a tendency to label each other. I’m guilty of labeling, too.
We often use labels like these: skinny mom, heavy mom, stay at home mom, working mom, work at home mom, soccer mom, karate mom, ballet mom, homeschool mom, overbearing mom, snobby mom, neighborhood mom, fake mom, absentee mom, mean mom, the anti-vac mom, the popular mom, the crunchy mom, laid back mom, trashy mom, baby making machine, super-mom, terrible mom…
and the worst: “Just a mom”
I've had my share of labels, some I embraced yet others I tried to shake! Have you ever felt that way? I get questions from people who make the assumption that my website name ThatOrganicMom is a something I'm bragging about, or that I labeled myself this way because I always eat organic. Can I make a confession?
Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be called an “organic” mom. *gasp* It's true. Many times I feel like people who truly cannot afford to buy organic food will think I am judging them, or that people might think I ONLY eat organic. Those things are simply not true. I’d like to share a little bit about how the ThatOrganicMom name came about, but for me to do that, I have to get a little bit personal. Is that ok? It might seem like I’m getting off on a rabbit trail, but I’ll bring ya’ back around at the end. So stick with me through this little mini-series.
How I got my label
Growing up it was just my sister and me. Between the two of us, she was the more confident one. I was always the more insecure one. Even though my peers voted me “most popular” in eighth grade, she was truly more popular than I was in school and afterwards. Even though some people considered me to be a popular girl, I don’t really think that was true. My sister somehow was able to stay under the radar of the mean girls for the most part, I was not. She was happy to just be herself, I was not. She KNEW who she was, I did not. I looked for approval from my peers and often, I didn’t get it or I got more than I bargained for.
My sister didn’t take no for an answer, if someone were to shy away from her a little bit, she didn’t withdraw feeling insecure (like I would have). She approached the most popular kids in school like they were on an equal playing field, and why not? My actions in school were probably viewed with curiosity and suspicion. I never knew what I was doing with myself. I’m so glad I didn’t have a cell phone back then! Someone not responding to one of my texts probably would have done in my teenage self!
If someone didn’t approve of what I was wearing, doing or saying, I felt so insecure. I was self conscious about everything. Not my sister. She did what she liked and did so unapologetically. She would approach the President of the United States just like she’d approach her best friends. No shame, no fear. She wore bright purple, fell in love with Dale Earnhardt and sang Gloria Gaynor's “I will survive” in the face of her own battle with cancer.
Devastatingly, on the day of my daddy's funeral in 2010 my sister was not able to attend. She'd been experiencing some problems and ended up having an emergency gall bladder surgery when they discovered the ovarian cancer. The doctor advised us not to tell her until she had recovered from the gall bladder surgery.
He wanted to remove as much of the cancer as possible, so a complete hysterectomy was scheduled, followed by chemo. She bravely fought for 23 months, and I honestly think she thought she would beat it. None of us really talked about the inevitable, and I certainly didn't want to know the statistics.
I didn't even try to find out how long they “give” people to live who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I didn't want to face reality, and I don't think she did either. No one did. There were a lot of ups and downs, and honestly, my mom and Mimi did most of the care-taking for my sister.
The last few weeks she was in and out of the hospital. Her lungs would fill up with fluid and she would have a hard time breathing. She had lost so much weight, down to around 80 pounds. During the last hospital stay I had I fought my anxiety about going into hospitals to sit with my sister each day while she played on her phone or watched a rerun of Friends. During one of these visits I begged my sister to try harder to live. I begged her to stop drinking soda and eating sugar (like it would have helped her health at that point, I was really in denial) and to fight harder for my mom. She patted the bed next to her and I went over to sit down there and SHE comforted ME. I was nearly hysterical; I was almost angry. I wanted to will her to live.
It was during one of the last few visits, the oncologist came in. I asked the oncologist if my sister should be eating the sweets someone had give her and the oncologist just shrugged her shoulders and basically indicated that whatever made my sister happy was ok. I must have looked seriously disturbed, because she asked to speak to me in the hallway. She informed me that the hospital couldn't keep her, that they had done everything they could do. She said we had two options. Either we could put my sister in a nursing home so we could try another round of chemo (how on earth would she survive that, she already couldn't eat!?) or we could call hospice.
I knew that chemo wasn't a real option, but I had to ask my sister what she wanted. She was willing to do the chemo, but she honestly just wasn't strong enough. She couldn't even eat and could barely speak. After talking with my mom and my Mimi, we asked her Pastor to meet with her and they spoke about “the end”… The end she hadn’t believed would come because she was SO OPTIMISTIC. The end she was surprised to hear about when I uttered those ugly words to her, “Pam, you’re dying.” The end that her surprised face tried to understand when I said, “the hospital wants to call hospice.” The end that came only two days later. The end that Broke. Our. Hearts.
Part Two Breaking the News to My Sister
It was so hard to tell my sister what her options were. When I gave her the options her facial expression completely changed. It changed from listening to utter disbelief. “Hospice?” she whispered with as much voice as she could muster. The look on her face told me what I hadn't really allowed myself to acknowledge until now; she really never thought that she would truly lose this battle. The rest of that conversation was sort of a blur.
The following day, I text her and asked if she wanted company. Her reply, “not right now, I'm tired.” I called my mom and asked her if she thought my sister was mad at me because I was hysterical a few days earlier. My mom said she wasn't, and I know she's right, my sister never held a grudge against me. Even though I was told that my sister's situation was desperate, somehow my brain and heart really still didn't process that she was going to die. I mean, maybe other people experience something similar, maybe we don't really “grasp” that death is coming fully until after it arrives.
You remember we had called for the Pastor to meet with my sister? He came right away to talk to her. Not only was he her Pastor but also a friend of the family. He told us later when he spoke with her and they talked about “the end” and what it meant.
When the Pastor asked her if she had things settled with God, she said, “I’m holding out for a miracle, but I’m ok either way.” In other words, she’d made her peace with God and if He chose to take her home, she was ok with that. At the time, she was actually planning a trip to Florida (from her hospital bed) with my Mimi and her family.
After Pastor shared this conversation with us, I went to rest and read alone. Ironically, I was in the middle of reading a book about living to 100. My phone rang and it was my mom calling. “I think you better come now” was all she said. WHAT? My mind was racing, how? this soon? not possible! it was screaming at me. I got in my car and flew, yes flew, down the interstate back to the hospital. I ran up to the ICU where my mom was holding my sister's hand. My sister was sleeping and I could see by the heart rate monitor that her breaths were slowing down.
As we sat by her hospital bed I thought about her life. About WHO she was. I thought about everything from our childhood, her silly shenanigans, her laugh…
My sister was everything I was not but wished I could be. I just didn’t realize it till now. She liked herself. She wasn’t afraid that someone else wouldn’t like her. “What's not to like?” She made friends in high school and they remained friends until the end. She would fight fiercely for those she loved. She remembered people’s birthdays, anniversaries, and more… she even remembered what shirt she was wearing on her first day of high school, or the song that was playing when I left for Germany after being stationed far away from home at the tender age of 18. She had an amazing memory. She memorized every popular song from the 80’s and 90’s maybe more. She also saved everything I ever wrote her.
I thought about years ago when my sister shared one secret with me, and only me, and I have continued to keep that secret, it was the one and only secret I could remember us sharing as sisters. I miss that I didn’t share any of my secrets with her. My thoughts just kept going in circles in my head…I couldn't believe my sister was actually dying.
I watched as the heart rate and oxygen monitors began to slow, slow, slow down. The constantly slowing beeping told us the end was near, that we couldn't stop it. I tried harder and harder not to cry. I focused on her breaths. Then just like that, they stopped. Everything went silent. She was gone.
My mom dropped her head down on the bed and we cried. A matter of minutes went by and people came and went. I stayed in the room when they came to take her away.
One of the thoughts I had was, “now I'm glad she never had children because now they would be alone” but then another thought came, “no they wouldn't be alone, they'd live with ME!” that thought made me smile a little, but it also made me a little sad. I guess because my sister never talked much about it. The fact that there was one label she never had: Mommy. My sister did not have children. She had her reasons and she had some regrets, but she called my kids, her babies… as in “say hi to my babies for me” or “how’s my babies?” … sometimes that annoyed me, I was a little bit selfish with my babies… at this moment, I wish I had shared more.
I don’t know if my sister ever cared about her labels or even the fact that she missed out on a few of the wonderful ones, but I knew I had cared too much about my labels. Like many women going through life, just trying to figure it all out; I have been labeled whether I liked it or not. Those labels; some good, some not so good. One thing I have discovered though, about labels is that the people who matter most to me in life, care least about what I’ve been labeled.
Can I say that again? The PEOPLE who MATTER MOST to me in LIFE, care LEAST about what I’ve been labeled. You know what those people call me? They call me mom. Well, they actually call me The Royal Empress, but that’s a story for another day.
Part Three My Sister's Funeral
We planned my sister's funeral so that everyone would wear brightly colored clothing because that's how my sister would have liked it. We played all her favorite songs, including the theme song from “Friends” and I still listen to the CD in my car sometimes, written across the CD in sharpie marker “Pam's Funeral”… We ended up putting the urn with my daddy's ashes in the casket with my sister. They are both buried in our family cemetery. I chose a heart-shaped tombstone for that truly represented her big heart.
Everyone loved my sister and you could definitely see that by the turnout at her funeral. Honestly, so much of that week was a blur… followed by the blur of the next month of packing up her things from her apartment. Followed by the blur of the summer spent sitting on the couch staring at the television watching Korean Dramas on Dramafever (we only had a Roku, no satellite or cable) trying to numb or at least deny the pain. I still remember the k-drama series we watched all summer long to take our minds off the hurt. The hurt and the anger that I felt were consuming me.
I was so angry that my sister had not wanted to give up eating bad foods and Mountain Dew or other foods that I felt were feeding her cancer. Inside, I felt like a little girl stomping her feet. Why? Why did this have to happen to us? I had a lot to work through to process my feelings of regret and sadness, but I also wanted to be there for my mom. Neither of us are ones to share our emotions too much.
After the initial anger had gone away, I think I kind of just sat down inside. You know what I mean? I just was done trying for a while. I'm not sure that will make sense to one single person on earth because at the time and maybe even still, I felt alone. I felt like everyone was dying or going to die anyways so what was there to be happy about. I couldn't find my hope at that point.
Not long after the summer of my sister's death, we moved an hour away from our hometown to Knoxville, Tennessee. I've never been one to put down roots; I guess I'm more like that wildflower my sister was the rose. (I had left home at 18 to wander the worlds and after I had come back from being stationed in Zweibrucken Germany, I seemed to move every few years. I guess you could say I like the adventure of learning a new place.)
How becoming ThatOrganicMom helped me stand up again
Way before my sister died, during the early 2000's (over the decade that was my 30's) I had started my organic-living journey with great passion. That's when I had started writing and sharing about all of my discoveries about health in a newsletter I called, “Planting Seeds” which I shared with my family whether they liked it or not. I’m sure a few eyebrows were raised, but they know I care and I always put in the time and research things thoroughly.
My sister, mom, and Mimi kept every single newsletter! While there were some benefits, to eating MORE vegetables and raw foods going all or nothing on raw foods isn't always a good thing. They stuck with me through the Raw Vegan Phase that nearly destroyed my health. They held their breath when I decided to have my fifth child at our ranch home in the middle of nowhere in Bartow, Florida. If we'd only known he'd weigh in at 12 pounds at birth! My sister came down to hold another one of “her babies” after Harm was born, she was my 3rd biggest cheerleader back then, my husband being my first and of course my mom supported everything I tried.
Later on, after moving back to my hometown in 2009, I started having health food parties at my home, just for fun. No, I wasn't selling anything! I was just passionate about teaching the ladies from my church how to make green smoothies, or exciting salads or homemade dressings. I started sharing some of my ideas on a little blog called “Stuff by Huff,” but we were focused on natural living, growing a garden, raising babies and living life, so I didn't pursue writing that much. Plus, I was writing reviews for The Old Schoolhouse magazine. My hands were full with these things and baby number six.
My dad started having peculiar behavior around this time, and my mom was expressing serious concerns about him. He wouldn't see any of us because he thought he was contagious. He was suffering from severe rapid onset dementia. I believe it was from a medication he was given to treat a tick bite, but that's a story for another day.
The decline in his health had been rapid, and his death seemed sudden. My sister and I were both Daddy's girls, and we were devastated. It was after my dad's early death at age 62 in August of 2010 and the subsequent cancer diagnosis for my sister that I mentally needed to take a break from homeschooling my children. During my sisters time battling cancer they attended a public school in Crossville, Tennessee and my little Shawna went to a Christian school for her preschool years. I feel like I missed so much of my baby during those years and that's probably why we are inseparable today!
It was the winter after my sister died, in early 2013 when we moved to Knoxville, my children began attending a Private Christian school. This was all during the “train wreck” phase of my life (that is a link to the story of my train wreck). This train wreck that contributed to my chronic illness and battle through Stage Three Adrenal Fatigue and reversed my previous success at weight loss. Though most people didn't know it, I was suffering from terrible depression and extreme anxiety.
I was happy for my kids, though. The new school was wonderful, and I wanted very much to make new friends and be a part of the community there. I volunteered to be part of an upcoming bake sale by baking some goodies and working the table. On the appointed day I excitedly showed up to do my part during my agreed upon time. However, some of the more established and popular moms were already there sitting behind the table. They looked me up and down… then informed me that my assistance would not be needed. It felt like a scene out of Mean Girls…I cried all the way back home. Later, I laid a cold, wet washcloth on my face for a while before I went back to pick my kids up from school so they wouldn’t know I had been crying.
Various repeats of the same scenario played out over the course of that year. Let me tell you; field trips were the worst. I was so happy if some compassionate momma spoke to me, and I didn’t have to sit alone or feel like I was the odd one, but those occasions were indeed rare.
Thank God for Harmon's teacher, she was so understanding and encouraged me not to give up trying to make friends. She gave me so many pep talks. There were a few of the moms who became a bit more than acquaintances. I'm an organizer by nature, so I had organized several Girls Night Out events. Several of the moms had gone to a few girls night out dinners together.
The following year, a few of the ones I hit it off with even joined my Dragon Boat Team “The Mother Load” to benefit the homeless in our community. Like I said, I love organizing events and get together's.
Still trying to find my way, during that first year at the private school, one of the moms from my daughter’s class invited both of my kids to one of her amazing parties. This particular mom always seemed to have it ALL together. She was a professional career woman–a real bread winner, a pharmacist. I was so impressed by her, she did this all and made it look effortless! She threw fabulous kids parties for Christmas, birthdays and whatever. Everyone seemed to know and like her and come to her parties. I was so intimidated by her success that I made my mom go with me to some of her parties so I wouldn’t be the loser sitting alone. How my sister would have been so handy to have around at this point!
At the first party we attended, my children and I walked into the party room filled with beautiful decorations, balloons to play with, a basket of gifts for each attendee, lots of people and food and music and laughter… the mom greeted us with a smile, then she started to offer my children some treats; you know, pizza, soda, cupcakes you know, party foods…but she hesitated, “Oh wait,” she said, “you’re THAT organic mom aren’t you?” She probably didn’t even put emphasis on THAT the way my ears heard it…
The room was suddenly so hot… I started wondering where I could go to sit down. I felt embarrassed that she might think I wouldn’t let my kids eat her food. My kids were looking at me, smiling and happy, oblivious..but I was freaking out inside. Of course, you know, I was already suffering from anxiety, but I thought to myself, I was just labeled…
My kids had only been attending this school for a little while, so how did I get this label? How did this mom know I was an “organic” mom? Was it the lunches? Did the other moms think I was judging them? Were they talking about me behind my back!? Of course, my head went to worse-case-scenario…
At the time, I let my fear whisper the worst in my head… In reality she had simply seen my daughters' home packed lunch box at school. She told me later that my daughter explained how careful her mom was with her lunches. At the time of the party though, I really had no idea where she had come up with “that organic mom” but she had just noticed these lunches…
Back to the moment at the party…
I was almost hoping my kids would eat the brightly colored cupcakes in spite of the fact that I had always taught them to politely avoid certain types of foods simply by being open and honest about all food, good and bad. So, in spite of my lessons, I almost wanted to be able to say, “see my kids eat sugar and non organic food!” These cupcakes were BEAUTIFUL. Professional. We still ate cupcakes sometimes, sure, but rarely ever ones with artificial food colorings, not because I was judging the other moms, but because we had been sick from eating those kinds of foods before.
I confess. Technically the label fits.
My kids did not eat those cupcakes, but they did enjoy the party! They loved playing with their friends and they did eat the pizza that day. They drank water instead of sodas. They hoped to be invited back, and they were. My youngest daughter, without any coercion from me, CHOSE not to eat the cupcakes because she often gets physically sick (vomiting) when she eats store bought cakes. She chose not to because she doesn’t like to be sick and she knows that if she ate the cake there would be a great likelihood that she would be throwing it back up later, all of her siblings know this about her as well!
My youngest son is a different story, he didn’t eat them because he is rather all or nothing type like me. “It’s either good for you or it’s not.” That’s all he cares about. Yes or no. Black or white. Eat it or don’t… he doesn’t get bent out of shape about it, he’s not upset, he's not missing out on his childhood. It’s either “do or do not there is no try” as Yoda says. He feels no connection with moderation; just like his mama. Do I always feel good about that? No, not always.
On the other hand, one of my older children was diagnosed at age six with Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) which is highly affected by food colorings. I completely changed his diet right away and it helped him a lot. Thirteen years later though he makes the choice to eat some foods I would prefer he wouldn't eat, but that is his decision now that he is an adult. He still eats mostly home meals, but buys his own candy sometimes. One time he brought home a huge tub of really cheap ice cream with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, sugar, hydrogenated oils, carrageenan and propylene glycol, but eating it made him feel sick, so he decided on his own that he would never do that again. He's a gamer and technology nut, so when he's not working or studying he's here:
I hadn't been free from my own health challenges, I personally had suffered through one very traumatic experience with a kidney stone many many years ago (that is when I vowed to never drink soda again for the rest of my life!) Our family had been through plenty of health related challenges! My dad, my sister, also my grandmother was suffering with Alzheimer's and I had two family members who'd gone through breast cancer, others suffering with obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and lots more. I wanted to help them. ALL of them. I wanted to make it all better.
It is painful to stand by helpless and watch your family members suffer. I had taught my children not to eat artificial foods for our own health… not so we could look down our noses at anyone else but because I’d had enough pain and suffering… my own and watching family members. I know that eating “organic” won’t change the pain and suffering that sometimes comes with age.
I know that we must all die. I don't ever want to leave my children without a mother. I am not afraid of what comes after death. I know, like my sister, that it was settled long ago. This isn't about fear of death. It's about having hope. Hope that if I can even the playing field, avoid illness, live a few years longer, or live my last years with my health and mind intact I want to! I want to give people a fighting chance to avoid the avoidable!
Eventually, it turned out that I really connected with the chick pharmacist – i.e. career mom. After we became good friends, I found out I completely misunderstood where she was coming from when she called me “that organic mom” I think that happens because without realizing it, that is what moms do. How I’d like not to be labeled and not to label others. Unless that label is The Royal Empress… but that's a story we'll save for another day.
She ended up helping me do my Dragon Boat teamwork, brought food, and organized things with me. She calls and leaves me funny voice messages and she never minds if I cry or complain. She knows I'm not perfect any more than she is, and we know how to be friends in spite of our differences.
She feeds her kids organic foods when she can…but guess what, unlike me, she is not so all or nothing about her kid's parties… so while she allows them to have treat-y food sometimes, she also feeds them super healthy foods at home. Do you know who she asks when she has a nutrition or health food-related question? Little ole me! What an honor!
Like most moms, she prays over her kids, rejoices when they grow spiritually, is concerned about their education, their friends, their happiness, and their future, and wants their childhood to be carefree and fun. Just. Like. Me. I'm pointing this out because what I saw (her label) was not a complete depiction of the person she is. While she is definitely a working mom, a career mom who has had promotions and is totally rocking her career; she has told me that sometimes she feels overwhelmed by all her responsibilities and just the reality that being a professional is HARD HARD work. She has to juggle so many hats (labels), one of them: motherhood.
So, this label brings me full circle back to my sister and what I mentioned before
My sister did not have children, she did not have that label…
You see, as women, we all have a tendency to label each other; sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Even though I was and still am labeled THAT organic mom, it’s just a blog title it does not define who I am. Just like your labels do not define who YOU ARE.
While it was somewhat embarrassing to be labeled as THAT organic mom at first and I worried about how others were perceiving me, I've healed a lot since then. Being the “organic” mom has definitely given me the opportunity to share HEALTH with others, but I did that long before I started this blog. I don’t avoid NONorganic blogs I've been an avid reader and writer since my youth… I do not avoid NONorganic moms, I love ‘em all. Although I have been accused of being a bit of a food snob, in my heart, my perceived snobbery comes from a place of love, not judgment. Because…
I want everyone to experience health to the fullest extent possible. Understand me, I have four daughters with breasts and ovaries. They live in a toxic world. You see, the morning of the day my sister died I had my well-woman exam. A few days later they called to tell me they found cysts on my ovaries.
I freaked out so bad! I really thought “well, first my dad, then my sister, now me; my mom is going to be alone, and my children will be motherless.” I couldn't even tell my mom, I only told my Mimi, my BFF, and my husband because I didn't want my mom to worry as much as I was. My husband kept telling me that I would be fine, and my best friend kept telling me “you are not your sister.” They all prayed for me, but I just knew I was dying too. I needed them to help me find my hope.
A month later they checked my ovaries again and they were back to normal. After one long, long month the scare was over…I almost felt guilty that I was alive and well, yet my sister had died, but I was beyond thankful.
Now, to answer the BIG question, “do you always eat organic?” The answer: no. Do I try? Yes. Do I believe that the “organic” label means it is always healthy? No. Do I believe that the organic label is everything it should be? Absolutely not.
I do believe that our food supply is becoming more and more toxic and we should try to keep up to date on “food news” so that we are making informed decisions about what we eat and what we feed our family. Ye, and that is exactly what I try to do on my website. I read all the time to keep up to date about what is going on in the food industry so I can condense and share what I've learned with the people I love.
So, you may very well see a non-organic label in my pantry or food used in my kitchen during an Ivy Wants Food episode or other food videos. Yes, sometimes I have had people point out to me that I “used something that wasn't organic” and yes, that is true! I think it would be very hard to be 100% organic. It is also unnecessary, for example, I do not buy organic pineapples or avocados just to name a few things, those are not a problem.