What’s in a Name? ~ by…someone

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.”

So says Juliet, upon discovering her true love’s despised moniker, and perhaps it rings true.  After all, it is our character that truly defines us.  Isn’t it?  We could be called practically anything, but it is our actions ~ how we choose to conduct ourselves ~ that really matters.

Why then would I find myself hopelessly bereft over the notion that I might be in danger of forever losing my name?

This occurred to me earlier this week, on the heels of yet another call from yet another healthcare provider calling me “Kathryn.”  Only doctors, police, the DMV and IRS call me Kathryn.  Well, and my dad, who calls me by my full name, sometimes, and that’s okay, because he’s my dad.  I have never been Kathryn.  Aside from the first day they called role and I corrected them, even teachers didn’t call me Kathryn.  I was Kay when I was little, then Katie, and, ultimately, Kate.  Everyone back home called me Kate, up until I started college.  Except my dad. His nickname for me (when he wasn’t calling me by my full name) was Sam.  But then, being an adolescent girl, I got, well, you know, adolescent, I guess, I demanded he stop calling me that, because it was NOT MY NAME!

And so, he did.

But then, I felt kind of rotten about it.

So, I told him that, when I grew up to be a famous author, I would use it as my pen name.

Obviously, you can see the odds of me being a famous author are quite high.  Did you note the wry wit?  The affable charm?  The effortless prose?  It’s inevitable.

Then, I went on my merry way, being a Katie, and then a Kate.

I did all kinds of things.  Strange, awkward things, really, because I was, not surprisingly,  as strange and awkward a teenager and young adult as I am a full-grown human.  Also not surprisingly, I have not yet become a famous author.

What did happen was I went to school.  Well, everyone goes to school, I suppose.  Well, not everyone; but most everyone in the U.S. who falls above a certain tax bracket, anyway, after a certain point in history (after which I was most definitely born) has some kind of education, and so, I did go to school.  I even almost finished high school.  Wow.  What I meant was I went to college.  Junior college first, and, in fact, I liked it so well, I went for a very long time.  It’s either that, or I wasn’t very good at it, and I had to spend a lot of time working out the kinks.  Whatever the case may be, during my seven illustrious years in junior college, I pursued acting.  I did quite a lot of acting at school, and even outside of school.  Since, during that time, I found I wasn’t getting any closer to becoming a famous author, but I was acting quite a lot, I decided to use Sam as my stage name.

The thing is, when you do a lot of theatre, it tends to lead to more theatre, which leads to more theatre, which leads to more theatre…and, well, pretty soon, most of the people you know are people you met doing ~ guess what ~ theatre!  So, pretty soon, I had a lot of new friends, all of whom were calling me “Sam.”  I was having a grand time, making friends, doing shows, going to parties, trying to remember to do my homework because ~ whoops! ~ that’s what I went to college for!  It really was great fun. Some of the best years of my life, to be sure.  I made some of the best friends I have ever had during those years, and I have even managed to keep in touch with some of them.  I learned so much.  I landed an incredibly important (to me and my future) job that ended up shaping my career, completely changing the path I thought I wanted to take in life and helping me find the direction I had lacked.  There were so many great things I accomplished as Sam.

But it was always great to go home to where the people who had known me and loved me since I was a little girl still called me Kate, because, somewhere in there ~ strikes breast ~ I will always still be Kate, too.  You see, I like Kate, and I never meant to lose her entirely.

When I transferred to Arizona State University to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Education, I got a job at a childcare center to help pay rent and bills.  I used the name Kate at work, and Sam with friends.  When we moved to California, I initially used Kate when I was teaching and at places like the children’s school and our church, and   Sam friends, but I found, as the children got older, it got confusing.  It probably wasn’t confusing for the kids yet, but it was confusing for me, and for others around us, and I worried it would be confusing for them.  What would happen when someone asked, “What’s your mom’s name?” and they gave a different answer than the name by which that person knew me, or the name they had on record?  It was too much to expect a kid to remember.  It was too much to expect me to remember.  Now, what name did I tell THESE people?  And so, gradually, I just became Sam.

Looking back, now, I don’t know why I became Sam, and not Kate.  At the time, perhaps, it felt comfortable, because I was used to it.  It hadn’t been long since my college days.  Maybe I longed for the days of rehearsals and greenroom chatter and late nights at Denny’s.  Maybe I just wanted to be different, because I was still young, and kind of ornery.

But now…

Well, now…

Now, I think, with the advent of social media, we don’t talk on the telephone as much as we used to.  So I don’t hear the voices of my family and friends back home as often as I once did.  They don’t hear mine, either, because I don’t call, and I should.  I mean, I think I should.  They might be reading this and thinking, “Oh, dear God ~ now she’s going to call me!”  I like hearing people’s voices.  Unfortunately, I think our lives have all evolved in ways that don’t allow for telephone conversations often.  I fear…or, no, not fear, exactly, but suspect…I strongly suspect we are all now hardwired in to social media communication, which is a wonderful convenience, and I am thrilled to have it, but I do miss the voices.  I miss hearing them say my name.  It’s old-fashioned, I know, and, perhaps, a little bit self-centered.  I can accept that.  I have lived a very other-centered life as a wife, mother and teacher, so, on this point, I can be the tiniest bit self-centered. I think it’s been a little bit too long since my last trip back to Maryland, and I want to hear people say my name the way they have said it since I was a little girl.  People like my mom, my siblings, my cousins, my childhood best friends.

Then, of course, there are the ones that will never say it again: Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Fran, Uncle Frank, Aunt Dody, Uncle Jack, Uncle Jim, Uncle Joe, Aunt Eleanor, Aunt Kay, Uncle Tony, Aunt Dee…  I haven’t even named them all.  I could never name them all.  It’s too hard.  I feel bad.  I keep thinking of people I need to go back and add. Geez.  That’s a lot of people.  And it’s probably still not everyone. What do you do about them?  I can still hear them, clear as a bell, in my mind, so, sometimes, that’s what I do.  I just close my eyes and listen.

What occurred to me recently, I think, is this notion that I am losing my name.  That, if I don’t hear it ~ if fewer and fewer people are calling me Kate, and no one out here in California calls me Kate ~ I will just gradually stop being Kate.  I felt like Alice, walking through the forest with my arms looped lazily around a fawn, both of us blissfully unaware of who we are, because we’ve lost our names.  As if somehow I will simply cease to be Kate altogether, when I know well and good that all the Samming in the world couldn’t un-Kate me.  I mean, let’s face it: once a Kate, always a Kate.  Am I right?

In the end, I might have to take exception with Juliet’s opinion on names.  While I don’t think our names necessarily define us, I have to admit, there is something decidedly “Kate” about me, and there always has been.  After much consideration, I am not ready to completely divest myself of my Kateness.  I suspect, like Shakespeare’s Kate, I have and will be called “plain Kate, and bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst,” and I can live with that.

I’m not asking any of you to change anything.  If you call me Sam, continue to call me Sam.  If you call me Kate, call me Kate.

And, you know, if either of us ever has a minute, we should probably call each other.

I Ate a Sandwich – by Sam

The other day, I was out shopping, running some errands, picking up dry-cleaning, and I realized, at about 11-ish, that I hadn’t eaten more than the sample of cranberry bread and coffee at the grocery store.  So, I decided to stop and grab a sandwich at a nearby sandwich shop.  It’s funny, I think, that it was a sandwich.  By “funny” I mean, “coincidental,” or, perhaps, “unintentionally ironic,” because, you see, I am periodically told that I need to “eat a sandwich.”  Really.  This comment usually comes from rude strangers who have decided that, for some reason, it’s okay to make comments about my weight or my body because I am thin.  It’s okay, they think, to tell me that I “look anorexic,” that I need to “get a little meat on my bones,” that they “prefer women with curves” or even to ask me if I think I look attractive like that, or what example I think I am setting for my children.  Yes, these are all comments that have actually been made directly to me by strangers.  Once, a few years ago, I had a guy at a bar tell me that I was so skinny I looked like a Cancer patient, after I turned down an advance from him.  At that point, I was probably actually sick, but really?  Because, a second ago, you were interested.

What’s even weirder to me is when friends say things like this to me.  It happens.  I understand when they express concern.  They tell me I am getting too thin. They ask if I am okay.  I get that.  I mean, that’s cause for concern.  Some of them know my history.  I’m an eating disorder survivor.  So, yeah, okay, that’s reasonable.   Even if I they didn’t know that, seeing someone lose weight…well, I guess it can look unhealthy at a certain point.  They know my health, in general, is an issue.  I can see why it would worry them.  It’s still hard, when it happens, but it’s reasonable.  But that “sandwich” line?  That’s gotta go.

The problem is, right now ~ and, as it turns out, maybe for a long time ~ I have to be on a particular medication.  I have to be on it. I don’t really want to go in to detail about what’s going on, but it’s nothing terribly earth-shattering.  The end result is that I have to take medication daily, which solves the problem, and the only caveat is it affects my weight.  It has caused me to lose weight.  It increases my appetite, which is awesome, but it does make it difficult for me to gain weight, which is not great.  However, under the circumstances, I can’t worry about that.  So, I guess I should take this opportunity to assure those close to me that I am not relapsing into my eating disorder.  I’m actually doing quite well, and eating better than I have in years.  I feel pretty great.  But I am very thin.  I’m sorry.  I know that might look frightening to some of you, particularly those who have known me for a long time.  I know it might be hard to understand.  I am going to ask you to try.  To trust me.  I’m doing okay.

I will ask my friends to please avoid the “eat a sandwich” line.  Maybe you think, by saying something like that, you are keeping it light, but still addressing the issue?  It’s really just kind of mean.  That just doesn’t need to be said.  Frankly, sandwiches aren’t my favourite, food is a bit of an issue for me, my weight is always going to be a sensitive subject, and I am very self-conscious about it.  Besides which, it’s just not the kind of thing on which people need to comment.  Aren’t people taught not to make personal comments anymore?

As for the strangers who make those kinds of comments to anyone: stop.  Just stop.  Whether you are saying these things in person or online: stop it.  Why do you think you get to do this?  Who cares what you like?  Keep it to yourself.  You’ll tell me you have a right to your opinion, and sure you do, but here’s the thing: that person you’re talking about might be very thin for any number of reasons.  Maybe they actually are anorexic.  Did you ever stop to consider that?  Why is that term thrown around like an insult?  You know, its an actual illness.  It’s not a choice people make because they are trying to be cool, or they think it’s beautiful.  Maybe they’re just naturally thin, in which case, who do you think you are telling them how they should look, and that they are setting a bad example, or that they are unattractive, just because they look the way they do?  Maybe they have some kind of health problem that causes them to be very thin.  What if that person you just said looks like a Cancer patient actually IS a Cancer patient?  Aren’t you a freakin’ rockstar, now?  I mean, whatever happened to “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”

This brings me back to the sandwich shop.  I was really very hungry, so I ordered my sandwich, with all the toppings I wanted, and the guy behind the counter asked me what size I wanted.  I had no idea.  I just thought they had the one size.  He explained that they had three sizes: 7″, 10.5″ and 14″.  I chose the 10.5″ sandwich.  He paused.  I waited for him to ring up my order.

“Um,” he said, finally, “Are you sure?  That’s about as big as this bag.”

He was looking down at me from behind the counter, showing me the bag, so I could fully  understand the gravity of my decision.  I was sure.  I wanted a really big sandwich.  For godssake, I can measure.  I mean, I’ve been using standard 12″ rulers since grammar school.  I buy 12″ subs all the time.  I can guess roughly how large a 10.5″ sandwich is! Now, I’ll be honest, I had a lot of errands to run, and I didn’t really plan to eat the whole thing all in one sitting, but, while he stood there judging me and my sandwich, I didn’t see any reason to explain that to him, so I just said, “Yes.  Ten and a half inches.  Please.”

“Okay,” he said, still sounding skeptical.  It kind of pissed me off.

You guys, I can’t win for losing.  I’ve got people telling me to “eat a sandwich,” and people telling me I couldn’t possibly eat THAT sandwich.  If a larger person comes in and orders the small sandwich, does he say, “Oh, I think you’re gonna need a bigger sandwich, buddy,” or does he judge them in another way, and offer them the lettuce wrap?

I guess I’ll never know.  I sat outside and unwrapped my sandwich.  A guy who looked exactly like George Lucas walked by.  I like to think it was George Lucas.  I mean, not many guys look exactly like George Lucas.  I ate 5.25″ of sandwich, then wrapped up the rest to eat during my errands.  It was a very good sandwich.  A very large, very good sandwich, even though I was a little pissed off about the guy’s attitude.  I ate it.  And I am still thin.  I still have only very minimal curves.  And I still don’t give a rat’s ass what some stranger prefers.

Good Morning, 2014 ~ by Sam

It’s 11:16 on the morning of January 1st, 2014, and I am the only one awake here.  Last night was spent at an annual New Year’s party at the home of our dear friends, the Foxes.  Once again, a grand time was had by all.  I want to take a moment to thank our “playgroup” friends for the numerous ways in which they have contributed over the years to making our lives rich, joyous and low-stress.

When Hallie was a toddler, we joined an infant playgroup through a local chapter of MOMS Club.  If you are a mom, and you haven’t heard of MOMS Club, you should.  Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done with little kids ~ 3,000 miles from my hometown and all of my extended family ~ without the support I received from the wonderful people I met through MOMS Club.  Check them out here  https://www.momsclub.org/  to find more information, locate a chapter in your area, or start one of your own. I guarantee, you will not regret it.

Over the years, five families from Hallie’s MOMS Club infant playgroup have remained close.  The other four families have become our family here.  We have picked up each other’s kids from school, enjoyed moms and/or dads nights out, played, had sleepovers, partied, vacationed and grown together.  The 5 girls (formerly known as infants) are now teenagers, and remain the best of friends.  We are the only family with an older child, and one of 4 with a younger child.  The other children are best of friends, too, as are the adults.

I honestly do not know what we would do without all of these wonderful people in our lives.  I need people in my life.  I am a terrible loner.  I mean, I guess I am interesting enough for a while, but, having grown up close to my large extended family, I need to be surrounded by people.  For my kids, this is like growing up with cousins, aunts and uncles nearby was for me.  We celebrate one another’s victories, and mourn each other’s losses.  We may not be blood, but we are family.

The reason I bring this up today is that I have decided that my major focus this year is going to be on keeping life as low-stress for myself, Shane and the kids as possible.  With a new house, Shane working multiple jobs, me not working due to continuing health challenges, one kid looking at colleges, another at high schools and the third at middle schools, you might think this would be difficult, and you’d be 100% correct.  That’s why I am so grateful for the support we receive from our friends and family, near and far.

So, for instance, when I can know that, on New Year’s Eve, we can all count on having a wonderful time partying safely at a friends’ home ~ where big kids can do their thing, little kids can do their thing, and grown-ups can do their thing, all safe under one roof, that takes a lot of stress off me ~ no celebration to plan, no arrangements to make for kids; just throw on a dress and bring an appetizer to share. That’s my kind of party!  (And I won chocolate in one of the party games, and we all know good chocolate melts away stress.)

When we can throw a simple Tree-Trimming party at home and have it turned in a fabulous, memorable event when one of the other dads in our group gets the kids organized enough to put on a little variety show for guests, we realize, again, just how deeply our friendships enrich ours lives and the lives of our children.  I have tried, but have never managed to host the party AND get the kids to provide entertainment, ‘though it has always been a dream of mine.

When I can know that, if my kid suffers the effects of severe asthma while on vacation in the mountains, I am going to have a support system in place, right there with me ~ when Shane’s boss gives us a trip to the spa during that same vacation, nobody will mind if we leave our kids at the house for a few hours while we slip off to the spa to relax after Holiday stress and pushed up deadlines ~ it takes so much stress off us as parents.  I am eternally grateful for the continued support of our playgroup friends ~ ‘though, now, “play” often means watching Sherlock, Doctor Who and anime, or practicing a capella arrangements ~ and I catch myself thinking, “I can only hope they know how much we appreciate them.”  Then, I catch myself again; and I realize I can do more than hope.  I can say it.

So, thank you, Sheryl, Tim, Megan & Marshall; Priya, Chris, Maya & Nadia; Lisa, Ray, Gianna & Ryan; Lauren, TJ & Makenzie for being our California family.  Thank you for laughing, crying, playing and fighting with us, because that’s what families do.

Thank you, too, to our far-away friends and family, and to those nearby whom we see less often.  We receive so much love, support and encouragement from all of you that we are constantly humbled by your compassion, your kindness and your concern for our little family.   Thank you to our “Arizona family” (also a great group of friends) who supported us through college and marriage and our first venture into parenthood, and who continue to support and love us today.

More than anything, thank you all for letting us be the nutty, freaky people we are, and for loving us, anyway.  Everyone should be so lucky to have such friends.

To all of our readers: I wish you a healthy, prosperous, joyful, low-stress year, in which you are surrounded by people who love you and make you feel good about yourselves.  Remember, in the words of one of my favourite angels (Second-Class): “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Now, go make 2014 the best year yet.