Monday, October 1, 2007

What's In a Name?

Yesterday, my pregnant best friend relayed a conversation she had had recently with her husband. In the course of their dialogue, she told him in the event it’s a boy, she’d like to name him Sebastian. Her husband’s response was an emphatic “No.” Well, actually, I believe his specific words were, “Uh, noooo. If we name our child Sebastian, he’ll get his proverbial butt kicked in the schoolyard on a daily basis.” To which she, speedily and with a tone equally laden with sarcasm replied, “No he won’t, because he’ll be playing with Liam, Ethan and Beethoven!” Log one for her side.

In the last couple of years, the “naming your child” part of the already daunting task of becoming a parent has seemed to move up in the world of things to lose sleep over. Not to worry, living without sleep and saying goodbye to your freedom forever haven’t lost their appeal as anxiety-provoking favorites…and may I say, not without merit. Nonetheless, I have friends who agonize over name selection while wasting precious hours of their waning days of independence poring over websites, favorite novels, candy wrappers – just about anything – hoping to discover that one-of-a-kind moniker for all to admire. Heck, I’m guilty. I just got a “Get Out of Jail Free” card because “Jack” was a family name. Maybe we’ve just convinced ourselves that people with superbly hip names have no choice but to live up to them. Or better yet, we secretly cling to the notion that our uniquely named kin will rocket to stardom along with riches beyond belief and zippity doo dah, it’s early retirement for the amazing people who spawned such talent.

Speaking of celebrities…they’re the ones who have made unique baby naming so terribly fashionable, and along with leading the trend are fueling the fantasy. Let’s face it. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Apple doesn’t have a chance in hell of being ordinary. Okay, bad example – her parents are multi-millionaires. But what about Penn of the much less famous Penn and Teller comedy team? He named his daughter, “Moxie Crime Fighter.” Had I known so much creative license was at my disposal, I might just have decided to call Jack “Stick.” I can see it now. Personal exchanges would go something like this: “Hi, I’m Tate and this is my son Stick.” “Hmmm, that’s an unusual name, what was your inspiration?” Me. (In my best Bree from Desperate Housewives voice) “Well, I think it was right around labor hour 17 of 33 1/2, when I recall having an overwhelming desire to pierce my doctor in the eye with one. After that, it just kind of stuck.” Pun intended.

I think if we really want our children to have names that are uniquely theirs, we should take a lesson from the centuries old traditions of the Native American culture. I mean, come on – we already know it works. How many “Sitting Bulls” were there? One! And whaddya know, he’s STILL famous! Granted, our interpretation of this distinctive naming tactic may lead to more than our fair share of “Eats his Own Boogers” and “Drools Uncontrollablies,” but the potential is there. And better yet, as parents we’d have all the control. Just think, instead of the intermittent, but well-placed “Do you know that I almost died giving birth to you?” we could ensure they’d never forget what we went through to get them here. For instance, there could be the fabulous pro football player named “Watermelon Seeks Quarter-sized Exit” or a C-section child, “Left my Mom with no Feeling in her Lower Abdomen,” or even the occasional, but on point “Conehead with an Attitude.” Really the only problem I see with this strategy is that we may have to be renamed several times throughout our lives to reflect our various phases. With that said, I’d like to reintroduce some members of my family. My son, “Stains Everything He Wears,” my husband, “Still Can’t Find the Scissors Himself,” my father, “Confused by Call Waiting,” and my sister, “Divorce Becomes Her.” Oops, almost forgot me – “Muddling Through.” Let’s just hope my next iteration isn’t “Next stop: Looney Bin.”

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I'm Not Your Monkey

Yesterday, for what seems like the umpteenth time, I found myself uncomfortably working through my list of excuses on behalf of my son, Jack, who quite frankly, could have cared less. On such occasions, I’m typically standing in a line of some sort – at the grocery store, restaurant, post office – doesn’t matter really because it always begins the same. A complete stranger attempts to engage my child in some cliché repartee – “Hey there little guy” “Are you having fun, little man?” “Are you helping Mommy shop?” And inevitably, it comes delivered in the voice of someone possessed by a Christmas elf. Jack’s reaction? Blank Stare, Confusion, Total Disinterest – or my personal favorite, Furrowed Brow. His expression notwithstanding, the message is clear. “You’d be talking to me becaaause…?” Meanwhile, I find myself having an out-of-body experience as I tap dance my way through any number of possible explanations to justify his very un-PC reaction. It’s not that he’s entirely inhospitable, nor would I designate his feedback as wrought with disdain, it’s more of a “Listen…we both know this won’t be a long-term relationship, so I’d just as soon not make the investment.”

In my dreams, he’s just a little Jon Stewart in the making. The Comedy Central, “Daily Show” host made history when he snubbed CNN’s Crossfire co-host, Tucker Carlson during a heated political debate. After having been backed into a corner one too many times, Carlson had run out of eloquent steam so was forced to throw out a “Hey, you’re a comedian, say something funny” to which Stewart flatly responded, “I’m not your monkey.” I often imagine that if I could see the little thought bubble above my son’s head during these encounters, that’s what I’d be reading. Just one time I’d like to say what’s really on my mind: “Look, let’s not waste each other’s time, this is just not your day.” Or maybe, “What can I say? He’s a tough audience and you lack ‘the stuff’ to make it happen.” Truth be told, on some level, I’m envious. Oh to be unencumbered by social norms and rules of polite conversation. Why is it that somewhere on our way to adulthood most of us seem to develop an unnatural need to be accepted – admired even? At the risk of dating myself, I’ll refer to Sally Field’s 1984 Oscar speech, “You like me, you really like me!” I think in that moment she became the poster child for those of us desperate to belong.

I know he’s only 21 months old and doesn’t know any better, but I have a sneaking suspicion that even when he does, not much will change. He’s always been the kind of kid that’s so comfortable in his own skin, he doesn’t really need you to love him. Sure, he enjoys it if you do, but it’s not a requirement to help him get through his day. Like a 50-year-old woman who’s come into her own, Jack has a beyond-his-years maturity and self-confidence I only wish I had. I know there are a lot of theories out there about the afterlife, creation – the whole cycle – and only God knows the real skinny. But sometimes I just want to sneak into his room at night and whisper, “Hey, kid, you’ve been here before haven’t you?” My theory is that his lapse into slumber will somehow awaken his subconscious and he’ll crumble like a cheap suit in war-time interrogation. In my worst nightmare, of course, he’d suddenly open his eyes, turn his head slowly toward me and say, “As a matter of fact, Mom, I have been here before and f.y.i, you’re not doing such a hot job.” I suppose if that were to ever happen, a restful nights sleep for my remaining days would be out of the question. All I know for sure is that if it ever does happen, I’ll be ready with my list of excuses.