I have a strong memory of being taken, as a child, to collect names tapes that had been ordered for me. I think they must have been for my Girls Brigade uniform rather than for school as we bought them from the Methodist shop. I had been waiting for them for weeks and going to collect them felt impossibly exciting. I can still picture myself holding mum’s hand as we walked by the Cathedral on a late summer afternoon.
I can also still remember my astonishment at seeing my name stitched into the cotton strips. Perhaps it was the permanence of it or the expert lettering or the fact the tapes had been made professionally rather than by mum. The name tapes not only confirmed my identity, they affirmed me; the name was mine and I was this name. Did that scare me I wonder? Was there a sense of loss too perhaps – that I was the person named on the tape, not just my mother’s daughter? Was I still holding mum’s hand when we walked back past the Cathedral?
When Dylan started school I walked the Cathedral Quarter looking for that shop. Of course, it had gone; name tapes were printed now, not sewn, and were ordered by post. I chose green on cream. I remember sitting for hours in the evenings, at this particular time of year, stitching name tapes into Dylan’s clothes. Because of his disability I had to label everything: pants, socks and vests as well as top clothes. When the time came to buy name tapes for my daughter I placed a smaller order (she chose red); with language, I realised, you are able to claim your life more easily.
Although my daughter was initially as thrilled by her name tapes as I had been, it wasn’t long before she declared them unnecessary. Dylan, however, has continued to need them. There was a time when I devoted myself to sewing them in his clothes but at some point I stopped. I don’t know why. Perhaps the poem I wrote about finding my daughter’s discarded name tapes in my sewing basket (after she left home) unearthed feelings difficult enough to stop me from engaging with them ever again. Whatever the reason, it is a long time now since I sewed a name tape into Dylan’s clothes.
Because he has been living at home there haven’t been many opportunities for Dylan to lose or muddle clothes but the scope for loss and confusion is high in a residential setting, especially when the residents are similar in age and size (and therefore clothing). It is entirely unreasonable, in this situation, to expect care staff to sort unlabelled laundry. Since June I have had a bag of name tapes on my desk which I have fully intended sewing into those items of Dylan’s I wouldn’t want to be misplaced (because they are newish or favourite or would be challenging to replace). ‘Do name tapes’, however, has stayed fixed on my list of things to do – no matter how many tricks I play on myself I just cannot get the needle into my hand.
Today I accepted my limitations: when I went to see Dylan I took the name tapes for the night staff who have offered to sew them into Dylan’s clothes. I felt so relieved. Blessings on the night staff 🙂