I like to think I know why they do it but I am not sure I appreciate that they do. My mother does it and my best friend does it. I have educated my mother, or tried to, yet she refuses to change what she says. Her position applies not only to my daughter’s situation but to my own as well and that irritates me even more.
Desperately Seeking Suzan
My name is no longer the name I was given by my parents. I was named Susan and in my teens it was changed verbally to Suzan (pronounced Soo-Zann as in Suzanne) in an attempt at creative self expression (and perhaps teenage rebellion). Later in my life, I legally changed it to Suzan. I have been known for most of my life as Suz (Soooz) or Suzan (still pronounced the same as the name given to me by my parent just spelled or stylized differently). My mother absolutely, emphatically refuses to accept this, and insists on calling me Sue (which I despise, I would prefer she call me shithead or dumkopf). She feels so strongly about this she went off about it on my husbands’ facebook recently and my younger sister (siding with my mother) joined the party. It irritated me immensely.
Suz is who I identify with, it is me, it is how I define me, how I feel about me, who I think I am, and who I want to be in the future. My authentic life is lived as Suz or Suzan and that life includes my daughter, my adoption experience, activism and all related trauma. For me, to deny Suzan is to deny all that she is. It is to put me into a box and tell me how to act and what to wear and how to feel. I don’t respond well, at all, to that type of treatment (at least not anymore, it is well established I once fell prey to that type of direction and perhaps that is why I so strongly resist it today).
Of course, I realize citing the existential and philosophical concepts of Kierkegaard and others are a bit, well, above my mothers’ level of understanding. I try to explain my own position, in words I think she will understand, yet she continues to defy me. The result? The result of her actions? Our relationship is limited. To me, her refusal to call me by the name I recognize as my own is to deny all that I am. She gets only part of me in our relationship.
I am okay with that.
“Have you ladies decided what you want to eat?” the PF Changs waitress asks.
I look to my best friend of more than thirty years and she answers.
“Yeah, I will have the pepper steak” she responds.
“Okay. And you?” the waitress turns to me and asks for my order.
“I will have the Ahi Tuna Wasabi with mixed greens…and can I have another drink, please? That martini was really good” I answer.
“Of course. I will put your orders in now and bring your drinks over in a minute.” She says as she walks away.
My dinner date begins to fill me in on the details of her very ill mother. We were supposed to be discussing the Jodi Picoult book we read this month but somehow, perhaps not so illogically, the discussion turned to our ill parents. Friend shares stories of her mother and I counter with understanding and stories of my own similar experience with my father and the way he died last year.
Waitress returns and places my incredibly yummy martini in front of me. I lower my head to reach my rising hand as the glass is thankfully quite full. As I take the first zip of my drink, my friend begins to talk. I look up at her through my long bangs.
“So…. have you heard from Amber?” she asks
I choke on the alcohol. While attempting to swallow the fluid, I gulped in a breath of air. I was not expecting my friend to ask about my daughter let alone refer to her by her original name.
I pause and pretend to cough and choke longer than was necessary. I am debating what, if anything, I want to say in response to the question. I am also attempting to quell my feelings of annoyance.
I dislike that friend refers to my daughter by her birth name. My mother does this too. I dislike her doing it as well. My dislike is rooted in a number of factors, my own issues with my name and the refusal of others to honor that, the fact that my daughter attaches zero value to her original name (and by extension, me) and the very obvious fact that it is not her legal name. I suspect my friend uses that name out of respect — or at least what she thinks is respect. I am fairly confident if I correct her, if I explain, she would change her ways (maybe?).
From my friends perspective, as someone who was there, who knew my daughters father, saw my pain (then and now), she is trying to be considerate. Amber is, to her, my daughter. I do appreciate she asks about my daughter and is one of the few people that discusses her without hesitation but at the same time, her doing that, well it triggers something inside me that I am not willing to deal with at dinner.
“No. I have not heard from her. It’s been a few years. Though her birthday is in a few weeks. Cannot believe she will be 27!” I respond.
My friend makes a sad face in front of me and waits, presumably for me to say more. I direct the conversation elsewhere.
M & M’s
My phone makes the sound signaling a text message. Grabbing it from my bag I read a message from my 21 year old niece, who happens to carry the same name as my daughters amended. There is one letter different in the spelling of her name versus my daughters but they are pronounced the same.
“Hey, Aunt Suzan, just wanted to let you know that Tony and I broke up this morning.”
“Awwww. Sorry to hear. Are you okay?” I respond.
“Yeah. Fine. Worst part is that I am miserable I have to move back with my mom” she answers.
I cringe at the words. I recall what it was like to have to move back home after my maternity home stay, and many years later when I returned home permanently after several years in Chicago. You really can’t go home once you have been out on your own. I also know what it is like at her mother’s house these days.
“Uh. No you don’t. You can stay here.” I text her back.
The response is quick.
“Really? Seriously?” she asks.
I respond and ask her to come over as soon as she can to discuss with me and my husband.
Later in the day I help her move her stuff into our “man cave”. I take down all the sports related Fathead decals, move furniture around, empty the closet, bring in supplies. She is set. She thanks me and my husband. She will be with us through the summer once she graduates college and gets a job and possibly an apartment with her older sister. I refuse her offer to contribute money towards rent. I tell her to buy her own groceries and to help me out with kid stuff or things around the house in between her working at Whole Foods and finishing her degree. She thanks us again. Husband responds that it is the least we can do since she is the reason we are together (true).
Her younger male cousins, my sons, are thrilled when they learn we have a house guest for the summer.
Today, two days after she has moved in, my oldest son says
”Is M working?” he asks. He is referring to his cousin. I hear cousin but feel daughter.
“Yes” I respond.
“Wow. That’s weird. Never thought I would say that…” he responds. His words trail off in such a way to suggest he had more to say.
I know what he is referring to – his sister. He never thought he would ask if his sister is working or in our home – even though he is referring to his cousin of the same name. He made the connection. I can tell by his tone of voice.
I push him. He senses something in my voice. I want him to say that he was thinking/referring to his sister. He stutters or outright ignores the question. When pressed, he quickly changes his story and drops the subject.
I have a family relative carrying the same name of my daughter living with me for a few months.
This could be a teeny bit of a challenge but at least my son calls his sister by her legal name.
photo credit: Hillary Scharmann-Guiterrez