It's the forty-seventh argument today. I can hear the muted bellows and roars coming from downstairs, through the closed door and the floor joists. I have no idea what it's about, but I can't take anymore ibuprofen for another hour, so the squabbling needs to STOP. I sigh, heave myself up off my bed where I've been trying to re-route an impending migraine, slog to my bedroom door, and swing it open.
"William and Alex! Knock it off! Seriously, what is the problem?!!"
Absolute silence ensues.
I lean over the railing to look down upon my offspring and unleash the Glare on them. They look back at me with . . . anger. And it's anger directed at ME, not at each other. Are they serious? How dare they! They will toil in the depths of . . . oh wait. I know why they are glaring at me. The two combatants are not William and Alex, neither of whom have actually lived in this house for quite a very long time-- almost two years in one case and SIX in the other. They are Jonathan and Matthew. And they are smoldering with ire. I have committed THE sin.
The sin of calling one of my children the wrong name. In full disclosure and fairness to my boys, I NEVER get the names right. I mean ever. It's really quite ridiculous. The one daughter really does get preferential treatment here, but only by default: there's only one of her. We tried to acquire more, we really did. Hence the reason there are so many boys in the house. I cannot give you an accurate number of how many times my poor daughter looked at me, eyes full of tears, and pleaded "Just try one more time, Mommy? Maybe this time it will be a sister?" (cue wobbly bottom lip.) After the last brother was born, I said to her, "Sweetheart, I have no idea how we managed to make you. We only seem to be able to make boys. So you need to ask yourself, how many brothers do you really want?"
She stopped asking.
It's not like naming those boys was easy, either. We really slaved over the process, coming up with something we both agreed on AND fit said baby. We don't fully decide on names until after the baby is born. It's a thing I have. I have to see the baby before I can commit to a name. When our first son was born, it was going to be William or Alex. The big bundle of (loud) baby was born and I knew, when I looked at him, that he was not an Alex. This was definitely a William. We didn't finalize it for three days and the hospital lady in charge of birth certificate . . . oh wait. This is a funny story. Quick tangent (kinda. It actually is on topic).
It took us the full 48 hours of hospital stay to settle on a name for our oldest son. But after much deliberation and googly-ooing at our beautiful (and, as I mentioned, remarkably loud and active) boy, we decided on William Rich Davis. It's a very meaningful name. For three generations, the oldest daughter has named her oldest son William. (My oldest son, my mother's oldest son, and my grandmother's oldest son) And before that, the oldest daughter's father and grandfather were named William. It's family name with a lovely history. Rich, the middle name, is his paternal grandmother's maiden name. It likewise has a long and noble family history of courageous pioneers and community leaders.
Having a heart full of sentiment and love, I sent my husband down to the birth certificate lady's office to officially record our son's cognomen. Five minutes pass. I hear footsteps thudding along the hallway. The door to my room swings open widely and the birth certificate lady stomps into my room, waving a form in her hand. My husband is behind her, grinning.
"He says the name is Bubba Leroy and I am NOT putting that on this certificate!"
Ah ha! I'm having an epiphany! My husband angered the child-naming gods with his shenanigans and this is why I can never (really never, it's a bit stupid) call my sons by the correct name! Ya, that makes total sense. The more I think about it, the more I am certain of my correctness! Other names he has suggested for the kids include Skippy, Francois (wait, no, that's what he renamed his college roommate), Actinomyces (a bacteria), and Tularemia (a disease). And there were more suggestions like this, lots more. I blocked them from my memory. Yep. Allllll his fault.
Seriously, it's not like we've given our kids super similar names that would be hard to keep straight no matter what. People with identical twins who name them matching names are just masochists. They already look alike, WHY would you do that to yourself?
A number of years ago I thought I had stumbled upon a solution. Why bother with names? I should have just NUMBERED my kids! To some extent, the teachers at school have sort of done this. One of my boys has earned the nickname Cuatro, as in "Four." As in, you're driving us so nuts, we're not even going to bother with your first or last name. You just get to be #4. After some thought, I realized, however, that a number would end up still being just a name. AND I would have to keep track of birth order as well as actual names. Waaaaay too much for me to deal with.
Honestly, they should just be glad I holler boy names at them, even if it's not the right name. As one of five girls, I was very accustomed to being called Emifer. And the sister just after me was Jemily. And that was fine. I could even deal with being called Offie (short for Ophelia III) our (girl) cat. But when my dad called me "William" (see above for lovely family provenance of that particular name, which regularly goes missing from my brain), I kinda lost it.
"Dad. I have FIVE sisters. At least call me a girl's name!"
(I should not have whined. A certain husband used to call our daughter 1) Rachel (his sister), 2) Daisy (the family dog) and 3) Betty (the name he gave to the mass of FLIES he used in his research class.) Her name is none of these.)
I really felt I had a decent case for righteous indignation, though. Not only did have I have a nice selection of other female names he could choose from and thus summon me, I have a SUPER common name. I believe the US census shows that exactly 102% of female babies born the year I was born are named Jennifer. Those numbers might be a little high, but not much. My dad didn't even have to think creatively to come up with my name. He just had to holler the first name equivalent of "Smith!" Sheesh.
My freshman year of college, I found there were SEVEN Jennifers on my floor of our dorm. Not one of us looked alike in any decisive way. To me, this indicated that Jennifer did not suit me. I decided (in all the energy and genius that comes with being 19) that I was going to change my name! Another Jennifer and I did an informal survey, asking random passersby what they thought each of our names were, to get a feel for what name might fit each of us more naturally. And to fully demonstrate to all the world just how solidly "freshman" we were. In the end, not one alternative name was suggested more than once, several people simply gave us pained look and walked around, and neither of us changed her name. We're still both Jennifer. I asked my mother once if they ever thought about naming me something else. She said, "Oh yes. In fact, the other name was our initially our first choice. Victoria."
I could have been a queen. But no, I am a commoner. Sigh.
My pathetic woes aside, I came across an article recently that addressed the issue of parents calling their children by the wrong name and it turns out that no, I am not mean and thoughtless towards my children. In fact, it is the opposite. Calling Child A by Child B's name is the same as saying "I love you all equally!" So take that Jonat, er Matth, er, you over there, glaring at me from the couch! When a parent struggles to come up with the right name for the being of his or her own creation standing right in front of them, the name they struggled over for nine months and embroidered on towels and backpacks and coat collars, the name they command in sonorous bellows when discipline is required, the name that completely escapes them and gets replaced by the younger sibling's name at the moment of pronouncement, that act of blunder actually reflects equal love for all of the children. There really are no favorites. We swap one kid's name for another's because truly, they are all equal in value and importance to us. In our moment of stumble, we genuinely demonstrate our profound attachment for all of our children.
SO THERE, you little stinkers! I love all of you smelly boogerheads equally and I really do not have favorites and I really do not have to call you the right name because SCIENCE.
(Well, among my own children anyway. Because once grandbabies come along, everyone else is a distant, distant second place!)