Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Last Name Thing

You know, there are lots of reasons that I chose not to change my name when I got married. One of them is that I want girls who meet me to know that it's OK to get attached to their names; it's OK to form a sense of identity attached to their names; it's not a forgone conclusion that they'll be giving up their names someday.

That said, however, I do not always enjoy being responsible for educating every ignoramus who's never before encountered a woman who kept her name after marrying. In particular, I get tired of the "And are you two legally married, ma'am?" question that I get asked (I'd bet) a heck of a lot more often than do married women who take their husbands' last names. I bet that if my husband lived with his sister (who had the same last name) most credit card types wouldn't even bother to ask that question. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

While I'm here, I'll list some other reasons that I kept my last name:
  1. I admit that I floundered a bit with my identity shortly after getting married. I never thought that would happen. Certainly Paul didn't have any ideas about how a wife was supposed to be, but it turns out that I do. So I decided to leave things alone until the dust settled and I felt more comfortable in my skin before deciding on a permanent name change. It turns out that I found that I can be happily married with a different name than my spouse. Fancy that. And aside from the pesky questions from creditors, it hasn't been awkward or troublesome at all.
  2. I think the "but what about the kids?!" argument is just an excuse. Turns out that I was right about that too. I has not been at all difficult for me to call up and say, "Hello, this is Sarahlynn Wooster,* Eleanor Wooster-Duke's mom." People aren't confused and neither are we. Ditto when her dad calls.
  3. This one is a bit of a reprisal of number 1: maintaining my sense of identity. Here I am, living this totally suburban life as a stay-at-home mom. The symbolism of keeping my own name reminds me to stay true to who I really am and not get sucked into the keeping up with the jones's thing too far, and to keep up my writing and follow my own goals rather than subsuming my life entirely to my family's.
  4. I like my name. I like my family. I've had both for my whole life. I also like my husband's family, and while I consider myself a part of his family, I wasn't willing to give up my family identity entirely.

And like I said, it hasn't been hard. When we meet new people, we're the Wooster Dukes. I'm a Wooster. He's a Duke. And our daughter is a Wooster-Duke. In one short name she shows the world which families she comes from. It's nice.

*Names changed to protect the innocent.

Monday, August 30, 2004

A Family Reunion, part 2

August has been a crazy month with out-of-state travel to two different family reunions. If somehow has figured out an easy way to manage long distance car trips (or just trips period) with a baby and a manageable load of stuff, please share. Or better yet, sell your experiences. You'll make millions.

Anyway, I realize that I am never going to have time to write the perfect blog entry so I might as well just paste in my unorganized thoughts rather than keeping them in little Word documents waiting for that magical moment when I'll have the time and mental energy to make them all pretty.

I had a wonderful time in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin last week (where no one I know lives) at a family reunion with my mother's family. Ellie really enjoyed her 6-month-old cousin (what's the relationship between the children of 1st cousins?) and the rest of us really enjoyed talking, drinking, sharing photos, walking, and playing games like croquet, badminton, and volleyball.

These people are intelligent, and they are master manipulators.

The question is: why do they waste so much time when they could be accomplishing so much? Why are they so afraid?

Little Cornie, ridiculous Cornie, Cornie who never thinks of anything or talks about anything, Cornie who is so boring, Cornie whose faith is so ridiculous that it needs to be shaken at all costs: do you think that Cornie's nieces and nephews know all about her one-time fianceƩ from 40 years ago? Do you think that Cornie's husband is forced to put on his game face and doggedly psychoanalyze why that relationship was never meant to be? No? I don't think so either. And I wonder, as we sit and ridicule Cornie and she's off living her life somewhere, who really is being ridiculous?

Even in our self-flagellation, even in our guilt over the way it ended, we can't seem to stop ridiculing Cornie, presumably to make ourselves feel better. But does it work? Apparently not, because it's 40 years later and here we are, still talking about her.

This family: so smart, so well educated and well traveled and politically correct with such helpful jobs. And yet . . . so pathetic. When does my life start? Apparently the bit that mattered ended 40 years ago, while I was still waiting for life to begin. Oops.

Still more fascinating to me: Even as I think about them, even as I analyze their thoughts and interactions, I can't seem to stop myself from saying "we". This is interesting, given that this is a family that still refers to my father (and the other spouses) as "outsiders" even though they've all been married for more than 30 years. Even though my mother made the decision to raise my sisters and I far away, as Midwesterners, it seems that I've picked up on that insular family identity.

And yet, these really are people who care, who know, who do important work. And some of them really are still activists, in large ways or small. I admire each of them for something, and I really do enjoy our rare visits together. Here's hoping that it doesn't take another 20 years to organize the next official family reunion.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Near Brush with Celebrity

I was feeding Ellie her lunch today when the phone rang. I gingerly picked it up with my cottage cheese covered hands and tentatively answered, expecting the worst. Will it be the hospital with their stubborn insistence that we pay Ellie's medical bills despite their refusal to send us a bill that makes sense, or will it be a telemarketer? Neither! It was a neighbor.

"Are you the house with the flags and John Kerry signs?"
Quietly, bracing myself for a scolding about subdivision policy, "Yes."
Excitedly, "Well, I thought you might want to know that Kerry is coming to Kirkwood this afternoon! He's coming through on a train and he's going to stop and wave from the caboose and if there are enough people there he'll come down and speak! At 2:00!"

Cool! So I cleaned Ellie up, nursed her, grabbed all of our piles of stuff (why does it take so much stuff to get out of the house for just a couple of hours?!) and jammed everything into the car. We made it down to the historic train station at 2:00 and waited with the enthusiastic crowd for an hour and a half. Local Kerry volunteers were passing out stickers, signs, and T-shirts, but much of the crowd had come with their own signs. One Grandma had a sign that read, "Give him hell, Kerry!" An old man and a young boy juggled together. Babies in strollers and dogs enjoyed the beautiful day. Kids ate ice cream and dashed around. Elderly folks gathered in the shade.

When the gates came down and we could hear the train coming, a great cheer rose from the crowd and everyone crowded up to the tracks. The personalized Amtrak train (Help is on the way! American can do better!) chugged on up, and the caboose stopped right in front of Ellie and me! I woke her up for the occasion, pulled her out of her sling, and sat her on my shoulders. She seemed a bit overwhelmed by the noise and the HUGE TRAIN not 5 feet in front of us, but she didn't cry.

Unfortunately, Kerry didn't come out and the train didn't stay. Theresa Heinz Kerry and Chris Heinz came out and waved, and the train slowly chugged on westward. People seemed a little disappointed but not too upset. Word was that he was way behind schedule and caught up giving interviews inside.

For me, the feeling of strength and patriotism and being surrounded by liberals on a warm, sunny, breezy afternoon in my picturesque little community were worth the trip.

Besides, here in the largest city in this battleground state, I'm sure we'll have another opportunity to see Kerry before November.

Ranger Rick Comes to Play

About 3:00 this morning, I started hearing a racket from the nursery. I was just trying to get to sleep (so late! I know!) so I ignored it for a while. The baby wakes up periodically and usually soothes herself back to sleep. She has a book made of crinkly cloth in her crib, and I figured that she was playing with that. Well, the noise didn't stop and upon reflection it didn't sound so much like her book, so I went in to investigate. I was pretty freaked out when I heard the noise - much louder! - in her room but saw her curled up on her side, fast asleep.

Ellie's bedroom window looks out onto our screened in porch, and when I looked through the window I saw a strand of the white Christmas light we have out there banging violently against the glass. This is what was making the racket. At first I thought it was a sudden storm that had blown the light loose, but I quickly noticed that nothing else was blowing wildly.

I went back into my room to get some shoes, and made sure to turn on the lights and make some noise while I was at it. Fortunately for my fraidy-cat self, Paul woke up and came with me to investigate ("Oh, did I wake you? So sorry."). When we turned on the patio lights and peered through the sliding glass door in our family room, what to our wondering eyes did appear? Not a miniature sleigh and 8 tiny reindeer but rather raccoons.

Paul had left an open bag of dog food out on the porch and the little rascals really really wanted it. So they climbed up the walls of the porch to the upper corners, where the screen is most vulnerable, and ripped open the screens! In two places! The screen was just pulled right back. The little buggers looked right at me from 3 feet away and went on with their party.

Unhealthily fearless Paul ventured outside (through the front door; I wouldn't let him open the patio door and risk letting the fiends into the house) and opened up the patio door so that they could escape more easily. They were intimidated by him and scampered back, so he grabbed the dog food and brought it inside.

When we got up later this morning, they were gone. It was a while before we got to sleep, though. Adrenaline rush! Ah, life in suburbia.