The Name

January 15, 2010

My daughter has some decisions to make about her soon-to-be married name.  Her fiancé’s got one of those combo deals, separated by a hyphen. As family lore goes, great grandpa and great grandma had a baby out of wedlock (I could be off a generation or two). To keep the villagers from rioting, great grandpa and great grandma decided the baby would take on a his-and-her surname.  Eventually, the love child with two last names grew and had sons of his own, and those sons had sons, until one day my future son-in-law was born.  By the time the name reached M’s generation, the hyphen had weakened. M uses only the name that falls to the left of the hyphen. He has brothers who go exclusively by the name that falls to the right. His mother uses only the first initial of each last name, abandoning the hyphen altogether.

K was faced with a similar decision when we got married. She had to decide what her last name would be. As we were filling out the marriage license, I watched in bewilderment as K wrote down my last name as her new name.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Don’t even go there. I’m taking your last name,” she said.

“Why? I don’t even like my last name. You have an incredible opportunity to choose any name in the world. Why are you picking mine?”

“I’m taking your name! Discussion over!”

To this day I’ve never understood her decision. Whenever I hear my wife’s name coupled with my last name, I wonder, who?

I should have seen the signs that day that we were completely incompatible.  Sometime after we were married, and before K was pregnant with our first child, I decided I liked the name “Aegis”. K hated it.

“If our first child is a girl,” I proclaimed, “We will call her Aegis.”

“No we won’t,” K counter-proclaimed.

K was so disapproving of my name choice, and she complained about it to everyone.

“Steve thinks we’re going to name our daughter Aegis. He’s crazy if he thinks I’m agreeing to that. I hate  it. It’s not even a real name.” Everyone she told agreed that K should put her foot down—right on top of the name Aegis.

When K got pregnant, her friends and the people she worked with would joke about the name Aegis. They’d say to K, “How’s little Aegis, how’s little Aegis,” and they would all laugh. They joked about it so much that K could not get the name out of her head. Whenever I asked her to suggest a name for the baby, all she could come up with was Aegis. She was extremely frustrated and nervous that I would win out, and that our baby, if she were a girl, would be called Aegis. I felt a little sorry for K and started giving her name suggestions. After all, I had already chosen a name, and I figured it was only fair that K chose one too. We went through a long list of names. No, no, no, no, no. I was exhausted. A day or two before our daughter’s birth, I mentioned the name “Sadie”. K liked it well enough, and I had no strong feelings against it, so we agreed, if we had a girl, we would name her Sadie Aegis.

Of course, we did have a girl, and she has that name to this day…sort of. While K was recovering in the maternity ward, I went to the administration office of the hospital to fill out paper work. In the name section of the birth record, I wrote “Sadie Aegis 1.” For no good reason whatsoever, I thought I would add the birth order number in each of our children’s names. Anyway, the clerk helping me took the form and wrote in my last name, which really bugged, but I figured my daughter could drop it later.

A few days later, K and I were at home in bed. The lights were out and all was quiet. I took a chance that K was still awake and said, “I have a confession to make,” and I contritely told her what I had written on the birth record. “And I know that it will stay that way forever because you’re too lazy to go down there and change it” I said. I was surprised that she didn’t argue, and I fell asleep in peace.

The next night was much like the night before. We were lying in bed. The room was dark. We both assumed the quiet would last till morning. Then K said, “I have a confession to make.” She told me the hospital called and wondered if there was a mistake in the birth record. “There’s a number ONE in her name, and we can’t tell what the middle name should be because it’s horribly misspelled. Should we take that number one out?” Yes, K said. She told me this little story then laughed and went right to sleep.

Soon after, K and I went down to the county building to settle our daughter’s name once and for all. K was adamant that we leave the number out. I was adamant that Aegis be the first name. I did not want it relegated to middle name status. We both agreed that “Aegis” before “Sadie” didn’t flow as well, so we put both names under the first name heading and separated the two names with a slash. So, on her birth certificate, her first name is Sadie/Aegis. Most people call her Sadie. A few in the inner circle call her Aegis. And one of my friends calls her Sah-dee-juss.

It’s clear that we put a lot of thought into her name. We needn’t have bothered. From about age 2 to 5, Aegis either introduced herself as Dorothy or corrected us when we told others her name was Sadie. When she was 8 or 9, she made this startling admission: “I wish you had named me something exotic, like ‘Ivy’.”

The Child

January 11, 2010

K mentions almost daily how sad she will be to see our elder daughter move to San Antonio. She won’t have any friends or family there to lean on. I haven’t given it a second thought, until K mentioned that our younger daughter, who is 21, will be alone at home during those times when K and I go out of town. Then I started to feel sad. My poor H.

I have never tried to be a fair parent. S gets certain privileges because she is the older than her sister, and H gets certain privileges because she’s the sweet, adorable, cutie-pie baby of the family.

As S and I were discussing her wedding and the reception, I gave her dozens of tips on how we could pull off a respectably nice wedding on next to no money.

“It doesn’t have to be a big princess wedding,” I told her. “We can save that for H.”

Being a parent never appealed to me. In fact, I hoped more than anything that I was sterile. No such luck. After we were married, K and I practiced birth control for one year then decided to fire live rounds. She was 32. She wanted 4 children. Time and her age were against us. We figured it might take a year for her to get pregnant. We were wrong. The first time without birth control was a charm.

We learned that K was pregnant while we were visiting my mother in California. We were at an amusement park just outside of San Jose. K was a little worried. She was a day or two late for her period. Her boobs were swelling. Her form-fitting shirt, which fit perfectly days before, would barely close. The buttons were sweating under the strain of keeping too little fabric over too much body.

“I think K is pregnant,” I told my mother.

“Well, you knew what you could have done about it,” my mother said.

Our visit ended and we left San Jose for Utah. By the time we reached Reno, K had the passenger seat fully reclined in an attempt to suppress the nausea. Every one hundred miles or so I would ask her if she felt any better. She finally said yes nine months later at 5 in the morning in the delivery room.

We didn’t have the luxury of a sonogram or the psychic abilities of a wise old gypsy, so the gender of the baby was a complete surprise. Besides me and K and the baby, there was a team of doctors and nurses in the room on stand-by because of some evidence the baby might encounter some complications. We had all of those experts in the room, but I, of course, was the first to speak when the baby finally came into full view. “It’s a boy!” I shouted.

Thus began my stint of being wrong about my daughter on so many more occasions.

Once the experts determined that she was completely fine, they sped her off to the nursery for a battery of tests—normal stuff for a newborn. I followed. A nurse was filling out a card scoring her on reflex, coloring, etc. She wrote down a “9” next to one of the categories.

“How many possible?” I asked.

“10,” she said.

Well, we’ll have to improve on that, I thought.

Dance lessons, swim team, piano lessons, academics—throughout the years I thought the same thing: we’ll have to improve on that.

From the minute my daughter was born, I had only one wish for her: that she put herself through medical school working as a runway model.

We enrolled her in her first dance class when she was 4. She hung on the ballet bars the whole time, her feet rarely touching the ground. Forty feet away the other girls and the instructor leapt and twirled in unison.  My daughter never once joined them. After 8 years in piano lessons, I watched proudly as she played her recital piece in front of a large audience.  My guess is she was 13 or 14 years old. At that same recital I later watched in horror as a 7 year old boy sat at the piano and played that same piece. He had been taking lessons for a year. My daughter continued piano lessons for 2 or 3 more years. She continued to play that piece each subsequent recital.

The swim team was no different. Year after year I went to her meets. It was always the same. While the other swimmers took their mark on the block, my daughter took the opportunity to dance and shake her hips, turning two or three times on the block while waving her arms. Eventually, she would crouch down like the other swimmers. Instead of looking at the water, she would look at the other swimmers. She, and the rest of us, would then watch the other swimmers dive into the pool. Eventually, she would follow. Her proudest moment and greatest triumph was a first place ribbon in a free-style race. The little down-syndrome girl who was competing against my daughter came in second.

I remember once picking her up from elementary school. I came at the tail end of a volleyball match among the 5th graders and got to see her play. She looked really nervous and jittery. She kept clapping her hands and saying, “C’mon, we can do this! We can do this!” When the ball was served, she took every opportunity to run where the ball wasn’t. If the opposing team hit it to the right, she ran to the left and vice versa. 

I never gave up hope. After much pleading, I finally gave into my daughters and bought them a trampoline. Month after month, year after year, I indulged her: “Watch me, dad, watch me!” She performed the same trick every time. She would get a tiny bit of elevation in a standing position, drop to a sitting position, then land in a standing position, and finish off the trick by pulling a wedgie.

In the classroom, S was, let’s say, casual about learning.  Her best subject was Friends, her favorite grade was “B”. I tried everything I could to make her smart. I read to her every day until she was 12. I played educational games with her. I even hired a math tutor. I was involved in PTA, attended every parent-teacher conference and chaperoned on field trips. She just wasn’t interested. In fact, when she was about 16 she said, “Do you know why I hate to read? Because you read to us ALLL the time.” Still, I never gave up.

When S was a senior in high school, she called me at work with some exciting news. “Dad, I made the honor roll! Can you believe it?” No, I couldn’t. Finally. Somehow I had gotten through, so I thought. She then explained: “You know, I decided that I didn’t care anymore. I was sick of trying. I figured, school, who needs it. And now I’m on the honor roll. I can’t believe it!” My daughter, the genius.

Instead of an Einstein or an Olympian, I got a daughter who is funny. She’s witty and quick with the comebacks.

When she was 3, I fondly remember the time she came at me with an ax that she had found in her grandfather’s garage. I was videotaping my kids for the first time and had the camera pointed at my younger daughter. Behind my back, S was planning a sneak attack. I turned just in time to move out of the way. I caught the whole thing on tape—maniacal laughter and all. Another time, when S was 7, I was driving the family to who knows where when S reached from behind and covered my eyes. I was doing 50 mph. She was laughing pretty hard, which got me laughing. I was having so much fun it didn’t occur to me to ask S to remove her hands. K didn’t feel the same. Instead of laughing, K felt more like freaking out and lecturing.  Right around that same time, S left me a voicemail at work. She said, “Hi, Dad, how are you …(long pause)…Nothing much…(short pause)…school was good, are you having fun at work……Mom?…..yeah, she’s here…..do you want to talk to her?” The next voice I hear is my wife: “Hello?” Then, in the background, I hear peals of laughter coming from S.

I remember her doing or saying something funny almost daily. She is clever and quick, her stories humorous and graceful. Her quips were priceless; I didn’t think I could ever forget them. Boy, was I wrong.

All I’m left with are general impressions. One thing I do remember was her incredible ability to impersonate voices. From a very early age she could imitate voices with uncanny accuracy. I thought she was brilliant, and I wanted our friends and extended family members to think so too. Every chance I got I put her on display. Eventually she refused to perform saying, “I’m not your circus monkey.”

When she was really little, her favorite toy was string. From about age 2 to 5, she tied knots around the handle above the window in the back seat of the car. She often made these elaborate webs in her bedroom that stretched from the doorknob to the dresser to the bed frame to the closet to the doorknob to the rocking chair to the bed frame ad infinitum. She outgrew string and embraced bags as her new favorite toy. Not collector bags. Any bags, as long as they came from a grocery or department store. Bags of bags. They were all precious to her, even the ones from Albertsons.

Among her grandparents, she is best known for using big words from an early age. I wasn’t all that impressed with her vocabulary because whatever big words she was saying, she wasn’t saying them in French, which I had hoped would be her native language. Nevertheless, I do remember one occasion where S wanted to come into our room and sleep with us. She was 2 years old. Our door was closed, which meant we needed some privacy. We told her that it wasn’t a good time, but she persisted. Her begging turned to bargaining, and she said, “Can I come in after your performance?” Oh, that cute remark made the rounds at work.

The Date Part 2 continued

January 5, 2010

We were all surprised to see a silver serving tray.

Pretty classy, I thought.

My newly rich uncle had gone from borrowing money, which is what he usually did when he made contact with the family, to tasteful giving. I must admit, I was flattered that he regarded us as the type of people who would put a silver tray to good use.

As I pulled the tray from the box, I noticed that a small, white card fell to the floor. The weird thing was I recognized it. In bold, black letters across the top were the initials “ZCMI”. It’s not every day you see a ZCMI card in California. If you wanted one, you had to go to Utah, where ZCMI department stores were located.

I had my suspicions that the silver tray was purchased by Miss California’s relatives in Utah—a wedding gift for my uncle and his new wife…and I had her relatives’ signature on the card to prove it.

What a disappointment. I thought they were giving us a silver tray because they thought we were elegant enough to need one. And they were well-off, so I heard, and that silver tray made me feel like they had accepted us into their circle. When I realized they were not so much giving us the tray as passing it along, I felt common again.

Still, I wrote my uncle and pageant-beauty aunt a nice thank you note. I told them we loved the tray and were honored that they remembered us on our wedding day. I signed our names to the card then added: “P.S. You forgot something.” And I put that ZCMI card in the envelope, licked it shut and mailed it.

My uncle’s visit that day set us back about a half-an-hour. K needed to get ready. My mother had food to make. The rain stopped and the clouds cleared, which meant I had to mow the front yard. We were desperate for help when my brother’s wife showed up. She immediately went to work on removing the big red fingernail polish square on the door.  Things were looking up.

A little while later, K came outside to see me. “Your brother’s wife decided to bathe the little ones in the guest bathroom. They’ve turned that bathroom into an Olympic-sized swimming pool. There’s water everywhere. She’s used all of the guest towels—I’ve never seen a bigger mess.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her, “everything will work out.”

She went back into the house to finish getting ready. Moments later my sister returned home. I watched from the yard as she ran into the house. I could tell she was rushing. She had a lot to do before the reception—shower, dress her kids and pick up the cake that was still at her friend’s house.

 From where I stood, I didn’t see or hear the explosion. I saw only my brother and his wife and their children fly out the front door. “We’re leaving. Maybe you can stop by later to get your gift,” he said.

Now what? I wondered. I went inside for some answers. My sister was screaming hysterical. “I left this house spotless!” she kept repeating. K was hugging my crying mother.

“This would never happen in your family!” my mother said in between sobs.

“Yes it would,” K said. “Yes it would.”

It was pretty obvious to me why my sister was upset. All you had to do was look at the condition of the house—the clutter and detritus had quadrupled in the short hour it took me to mow the lawn. But what was making my mother cry? Something really bad, I thought. And something that goes on in K’s family too…what had I married into?

I went back outside to finish the yard. K soon followed. She looked liked she had just survived a plane crash, mystified that she was able to walk away from the wreckage.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m fine, but I don’t think your brother is coming back.”

“Why?”

“He sort of disagreed with your sister when she called his wife a whore.”

“So it got ugly?”

“Awful. I’m still shaking.”

“Wait, you said this goes on in your family.”

“Never!”

“But you told my mom…”

“To comfort her. My family would never do this. I had no idea families had these kind of fights.” I suppose K did the right thing telling my mom that little fib, even though it spooked me a bit at first. I didn’t want to be married to a family that misbehaved.  K continued: “I hate to say it, but I’m relieved your brother won’t be here. On the other hand, I’m worried that this reception is going to be a complete disaster.”

“It won’t. Everything will work out. You’ll see.”

We went inside the house so K could finish getting ready, and I could clean. My sister left to finish the cake, my mom continued preparing food, and I vacuumed, showered and dressed. We worked fast. Guests would be showing up anytime.  Soon order was restored and the house was again spotless and calm.

My mother laid out an incredible spread of food on a buffet table. My sister made it home in time to set up the cake. Just a little adjustment and it was centered perfectly on the table. K was fastening her earring, the final touch to her outfit, when the doorbell rang. It was our first guest.

As promised, everything worked out.

I didn’t give my daughter too many details about our reception in California—I got the impression that she was interested in something a little more top hat and a little less big top. I simply told her that with a minimum of planning, she could pull off a reception as memorable as the one we had. “So relax and don’t worry so much.” I assured her, like I assured my wife twenty-six years ago, that no matter what, everything would work out fine. She seemed convinced and thanked me for my wise words.

The next day, K told me that she overheard my daughter having one of those heart to hearts with M on the phone. It was late at night. My daughter’s bedroom door was closed, but K could hear her crying as she painted a pretty gloomy picture of their wedding day. I was a little deflated to think that my daughter was not so crazy about my advice.

“Did you speak to her?” I asked my wife.

“No, I don’t want to interfere,” K said.

I confronted my daughter.

“Mom said you were on the phone last night with M and that you were having a nervous breakdown about this wedding.”

“Yes. And did she also tell you that this morning, while I was in the bathroom, she crashed the door open and stood right in the doorway with her hands on her hips and said, ‘Well?’”

“Oh, you’re kidding! What did you say?”

“I screamed, ‘Mom! I’m pooing!”