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When the Ms. Magazine blog featured a post on a feminist parenting topic that is recycled more often than plastic deli containers at my mom’s house, I dug in. Again. The post was a forthcoming dissection of the confusion and regret author Careen Shannon feels years after choosing to hyphenate her daughter’s last name.
Hyphenation. It’s a big issue. An annoyingly incessant discussion that parents who choose to hyphenate a child’s name must have over and over. And over again.
I appreciate Shannon’s honest discussion of the downsides of what felt like a logical, equitable feminist decision to name the young Shannon-Solomon, including how often her daughter is called by one of her last names, the order of the names is flipped and the two names are smooshed together. She also says it is tricky and tiresome for her daughter to fill out any forms, from standardized tests to health insurance information, because her name won’t fit in the allotted space.
These things, the little daily dramas of carrying two names can indeed become burdensome. I should know. I gave my own son two last names. When he was in a daycare co-op, he was the only kid with all those names, but by the time he got to kindergarten in a more diverse school full of liberal and multicultural parents, there were always a few other hyphenaters in this class.
I told him that, LUCKY HIM!, he got a bonus name. I underlined both last names, turned the dash into a tiny star, told him he was special for carrying forward my last name and his dad’s. He bought it all.
Several years later, in third-grade impatient handwriting, he scribbles out his first name followed by the initials of each last name, separated hastily with a hyphen. He doesn’t have the time or patience or concern to write out both last names fully anymore. And because there is another boy in the class with the same first name, he’s bound to writing the rest whether he likes it or not. The funny thing is, the other kids in the class and the teacher shrink down his last initial to just one. Where he might be called James R-K, he would simply be James R (not his name). He didn’t ask for that, didn’t insist on something rushed, but also doesn’t seem to care or even notice the last-last name initial is missing.
In fact, he’s never questioned why he has two names, why other kids only have one.
“Oh,” he’s said sweetly a few times over the school years, “Grandma uses two last names! She’s special, too!” or “He’s hyphenated? Huh.”
But that’s where it ends. It is the other people who’ve been buzzing about my kid’s doubled-up byline since long before he was born. Some of my friends felt free to ask and argue about why in the world I would give my baby such clumsy full name. And when other new mothers and pregnant women I knew were defending that they’d opted to call their babies August and Ruby and Oskar and Emmeline and a new slew of old-timey first names, I was warding off the opinions and questions and heartfelt looks of genuine worry about the 7 lb, 3 oz. boy with oversized surnames.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN HE GETS MARRIED? WILL IT EVER ALL FIT ON LINED NOTEBOOK PAPER? WHAT IF HE DROPS ONE OF THE NAMES? WILL YOU BE MAD IF HE SHORTENS YOUR NAME OUT OF IT? WHAT IF? WHEN? HOW IN THE –?
I heard all of the questions, mostly in all-caps, sometimes in stage whispers like I was passing on cancer or unpasteurized milk.
My answer was always the same. First a smile. Then, “He’s smart. He will figure it out.”
And he is and he has. So far. There’s more to come. Perhaps he will take a stage name or get married or parent with another person with an equally long-lettered last name. Maybe the kid will get really pissed off at me one day and become a Smith or VanHeglund or Wojcik. One day, far in the future, we might laugh over a beer about how my last name was mistake for my first name ten times a week and he will bitch about his own surnames experiences. So be it.
My child might have to squeeze his name into too-few boxes on a form or the last three letters may get dropped over and over again on printouts and passports and credit cards. He will definitely have to spell and repeat and sound out and explain. And I know his calls into the doctor’s office to make an appointment will echo the sentences I’ve said all his life, “Rufus Rodriguez-HYPHEN-McCuddahy” (also not his name). So be that.
He’s smart. He will figure it out.
So to Careen Shannon and her hyphenated offspring, I get it. To all my friends and family and strangers and school mates and after-school activities instructors, I hear you. But the only person I am going to listen to on this subject is my last-name dashed child. And he’s not interested in saying that much about it.
Until then, rest assured that the same answer still holds. He’s smart. He will figure out.
And so can your kid. So can you.
This post originally appeared on Babble.com.
We were in Party City, green Spandex alien morphsuit Halloween costume in hand. Lil E was studying the pimp costume accessories — “Mommy, would an alien wear a bling cash-money necklace?” / “Maybe not one made out of plastic.” — and I was standing in front of the wall of pictures of people who look too happy to be wearing hot dog costumes or Elmo costumes or hippie costumes.
A mother was standing a few feet away from me, and her three young boys, all under the age of five, were pointing and talking and shouting about the section of women’s costumes.
“MOMMY! MOMMY!,” one of them yelled, tugging at her cardigan. “YOU SHOULD BE THAT ONE! YOU WOULD BE PRETTY IN THAT ONE! THAT ONE IS PERFECT FOR YOU.”
In tandem, the mom and I glanced to the square where the middle child was pointing.
Sexy Little Red Riding Hood.
The costume model stood in front of a giant, slightly leering man-wolf in the background. She was perky, lacy and super-happy to be wearing a skirt that barely covered her hoo-hoo and an even shorter crap-velvet cape. She had an obvious blond wig and contrived basket.
The mom beside me was, at a glance, lovely — an attractive brunette who was, frankly, far more put together than I’d ever expect a mom of three preschoolers to be. She didn’t need a wig to be hot. But the costume choice was still startling.
I laughed. I couldn’t help it.
But before that slipped out, I heard the mom say sweetly, “That’s not really me.”
When she heard me, she turned, smiled and confided, mouthing, “Shit, it has started.”
I laughed again but her attention was already back on the boy who insisted his mom go all Mother I’d Like to Fairytale.
“But, Mommy, it is perfect for you! It really is,” he whined.
It was funny in part because it was familiar. My own son has asked me many times, this year alone, what I am dressing up as for Halloween. He knows in the past I’ve rocked Princess Leah and a crazy-looking witch. But those were for costume parties and one adult evening out for the holiday. But I always answer the same way.
“Trick-or-treating is for kids. Kids get to dress up and parents give out candy and take thousands of photos that will never be printed out,” and then I add a little something. “ENJOY!”
His dad doesn’t ascribe to this thinking, choosing to trick-or-treat for an hour in a costume that matches his son’s every year. That’s his deal. There’s also an exception for the dad of a friend who has proudly shown off a generous midsection in a Tinker Belly joke costume while the kids ran from door to door. Still, I stand firm in my belief: Unless it is for a dress-up party or super-good reason (that I can’t come up with right now), costumes to trick-or-treat are for kids.
Sexy versions of Red Riding Hood, nurses, Katy Perrys, goth girls, nuns, hippies, devils, kitties and ketchup are for private parties. Of two. No kids or fun-sized bars invited.
My parental costume rule doesn’t mean that my kid, or that mom’s children or your own, won’t stop asking a mama to get gussied (or hussied) up for Halloween. But it does mean better judgment should keep you redirecting your attention and plastic cash-monies on a giant slice of pizza costume for your little ones rather than a much-smaller (sexier and sausage) version for yourself.
Hey, breaker of my rule and MILFairytale encouragers: Will you dress up with your kids to trick-or-treat?
This post originally appeared on Babble.com.