What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
So, what IS in a name?
Some people don’t like their own given name, and sometimes we don’t like someone else’s name. Sometimes we are in wonderment at how someone might have arrived at a particular name, or notice that a name has a funny ring to it, or sounds like it might be from another language than our own, etc. I remember disliking my name when I was young. I much preferred nicknames to my own given name when I was a teenager. That changed as I grew into an adult, but not necessarily for the reasons this post is about… until now.
Our family has another grandbaby on the way — our third. So it’s an exciting time! I was teasing the kids about naming the baby after me — even if it was a boy — or combining mine and mother’s names — DeboRosa. Yeah, I know how it sounds. My former husband says it sounds too much like “ambrosia,” which I still feel qualifies it for the possibility list. (I’m seriously just kidding.)
When I was out for my walk the other day, I was chuckling to myself about that conversation. Then I started thinking about our children’s names. All three boys are named after beloved family members who are not only loved, but strong in character. The lone girl’s name was chosen because it sounded pretty (and it is — almost as pretty as her). Our first granddaughter is named the same way, and our first grandson is named after his father and has a middle name with a very special meaning in Spanish. Anyway, that’s the context for this post.
As I and my thoughts meandered around the neighborhood, it occurred to me just how much I love our kids’ names, and how much they mean to me. I started thinking about the things I mentioned above about my own name, about times when I couldn’t imagine why someone would name a child “that,” or when I heard someone making fun of a name because it sounded “foreign.” I know people who have changed their names because they didn’t like them, and others because the name they were given at birth did not match their gender identity. I know some who have changed their names because they wanted a more American-sounding name. (That makes me sad for a few reasons.) I also recalled some people whose names make me personally feel a particular way — upset, angry, sad, fearful, anxious. And there are still others when I hear them, I feel joy, love, warmth, happiness. But I couldn’t recall ever hearing a parent say that they regretted giving a particular name to their child/ren.
I worked in various positions in healthcare, primarily women’s health for many years. Names were important, and spellings of those names were extremely important. I used to keep a list in my drawer of the peculiar or unusual ones. Some seemed thoughtful, but others still have me scratching my head to this day. Nonetheless, someone cared about those names enough and whatever was behind them to dole them out to a most precious gift.
How do people respond to your name? How do they feel when they hear it? How do you feel about your own name? How will you hear names after this?
When your parent/s gave you your name, it sounded like love in their soul, like music to their ears, a song etched in their heart, or a sweet memory worthy of sharing. It meant something to the person that thoughtfully gave you your name, and they heard something in it, knew someting about it no one else could hear, see, or feel quite the same.
When you set out to cause suffering in another, you double your own and invite more of it. You cannot escape the suffering you put on others until you give up the practice of causing it, and give up your addiction to that savage, satiating feeling you think fixes you when you cause it.
This manufacturing of suffering is a vicious cycle for all involved. Life brings suffering at times on its own, this is a fact. But the manufacturing of it is something else. It’s abuse, for one thing, and manipulation. But more than that, it’s a whole cycle. The one inflicting the suffering circumstances (manipulator, abuser) is already suffering. What a horrid way to go through life — perpetrating hurt and pain on others. I’ve heard victims say that they don’t understand how the abuser lives such a good life, or gets away with their behavior. I can see how it appears that way, but I think this is mostly false.
Once the cycle starts, the target will find ways to avoid the circumstances and abusers will double-down on their victims, but the suffering continues to return to the manipulator and multiplies by a factor of their own and the person/s they’re hurting. One’s own suffering can’t actually be cured or satiated by inflicting more suffering. And if you’re the abuser, frankly, you give up your right to be angry at the change in people caused by your endless refusal or inability to be decent, or their willingness to go to great lengths to stay out of your line of fire. That’s part of the price you pay. So… more suffering.
We often stop to think, contemplate, plan about and for our child’s future. But do we do the same for the future of others from the standpoint of how our children will affect them, affect the rest of the world? If not, why not?
I remember being bullied as a kid by a jerk down the street for years — he was such a mean kid, by “mean girls” in my neighborhood, and by some in school who just didn’t like the way I looked or who my friends were. I struggle to believe that their parents didn’t know how mean and even abusive some were, and I often wonder how some of them are now as adults. In the workplace I would imagine which employees and managers had been bullied as kids or were the bullies. We see and hear about abusive relationships with spouses, with children, even with elderly parents. I can recall even a few teachers that definitely were. Can you imagine — the people responsible for educating our children? We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to ask about it or get involved. Sometimes we even shame the victim (another abuse). We even deny it when we’re the one with the personality problem (so it continues). We don’t want to admit when it’s an issue in our families or how we might be affected by it. So, when does it STOP? Where does it END? No type of abuse is acceptable, or so we like to say. Verbal, sexual, physical, and even schoolyard bullying — all types are VIOLENCE.
When does one finally look at it honestly and squarely and say, “THIS ENDS WITH ME RIGHT NOW?” We don’t have to be the abuser, necessarily, to change it and turn it around. You know how some of us like to pretend that there’s nothing wrong in our family dynamics. We might have responsibility because we know it’s happening. Yes, if we know, we are responsible. And if you are the abuser — how miserable you must be stuck in that way. Don’t you want more for yourself, for your kids, for others that you affect?
The saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” I prefer, “Miserable people make other miserable people who turn around and make other people miserable.”
I was remembering a suggestion someone made, tongue-in-cheek, about how politicians should wear suits or jackets like professional auto racers wear. You know the ones that have patches and graphics all over them showing who their sponsors are? I wish we would do that. It will never happen though. They don’t really want us to easily identify, or in some cases ever identify who donates to their campaigns because then we would really see what is behind their masks and who they really serve. But then that had me thinking a little further — about all of us. What if there were specific characteristics that showed the world who we are, what we are like as soon as anyone laid eyes on us — characteristics that couldn’t be changed? We already have issues with making assumptions based on skin, national origin, sex, etc. But what if naturally blue hair meant you hit your wife? What if checkered grey and green skin meant you were a cheater? What if lavender lips meant you were chronically mean? What if hair that grew straight up front, but tight and curly in the back showed that someone was a narcissist? Or what if whatever clothes we put on for the day and our bodies just instantly became tagged with these clues? What would that be like? Would that cause us to be kinder, to be quicker to care about how our actions affected others? The possibilities are endless… but I’ll bet a lot of us are glad this is just a daydream from a walk.
Today, I am going to get personal. I often talk about things “out there,” or I am ambiguous on purpose because what I’m writing about can have more than one meaning. I usually want the reader to find the one that resonates with them. So I’m going to do something in this post that I don’t frequently do — get personal.
The hubs and I have one of our best friends coming to visit for a quick overnight stay. We haven’t seen her in two years, where we normally would see her and her family three to four times a year. She and her husband moved out of the state a couple years ago and, thanks to COVID-19, we haven’t had the chance to see them or their kids. She’s “home” for a spell and is making the two hour+ drive to see us. Because of this, there has been an amount of “getting ready” happening in our home.
Something about tidying up and rushing around the house reminds me of my father. He was a tyrant. He was fastidious, to say the kindest and the least, about everything, and definitely about the inside as well as the outside of the home. The majority of my chores were outside for some reason (no clue why). It’s probably no shock that I’m way better at taking care of the outside of the house than I am the inside. But there’s more to it than that. I actually get sort of frozen-in-place when a project inside is a giant one, or when someone decides they want to rush me around. Nothing was ever good enough for him, and he never cared how hard you tried.
So, back to our friend that’s coming over. I got up this morning with a migraine and tallied up the things that I felt needed to be done before her arrival this evening. There weren’t many, and even those were pretty simple things. I had already washed sheets, dusted and cleaned the bedroom, and made the bed. I dusted the living and dining rooms a couple days ago. But there are dog nose-prints on the front window and mulberries squished on the floor from dogs that run around the backyard and then track them inside. The mulberries are a several-times-a-day project until the tree stops dropping them. Well, shoot, my vitamins are out on the counter in the kitchen and the kitchen rugs could use another wash. Some of the placemats on the dining table don’t match. Recyclable trash needs to be emptied, and there’s a stack of mail on the dining room table. My desk – well my desk has always had a life of its own! Laundry is in the dryer, so that means it probably won’t get folded and put away before she gets here. I sort of sat there with my cup of coffee in a trance, frozen-ish, headachy.
By the time I finished my cup of coffee and cottage cheese with blueberries, I was over it — not over our friend’s visit, but over being overly-concerned about what there was to do. First of all, we love her and she loves us, and I know for a fact that she is not going to come into my home and begin examining everything, and I already know she has no expectation of walking into a showroom model home. Secondly, I’m not going to have friends who are that judgy anyway. (If you are, I might just hand you some spray and paper towels and invite you to clean the dog nose-marks yourself.)
I realize that my first reaction this morning was really coming from someone/somewhere else, and not from me. I just happened to let it in. It was coming from people who have been in my life who really need to do as much heart work as they do in other areas of their lives. My heart is full of love for our friend, and I know it’s returned. My home is clean, comfortable, and welcoming. Save my desk and a set of shelves in my bedroom, my home is orderly. You can open my cupboards and look under the rugs and furniture.
I know some people who insist on a spotless home who are actually not great at being good humans, or whose lives are in complete disarray. (That’s not to say that everyone who has a spotless home IS a terrible human, so don’t email me.) But it occurred to me today that we can work so hard at looking good, appearing competent, acting organized, etc., but forget or refuse to give as much attention to becoming the person our exteriors claim we are. We may have a clean home, pressed clothes, a nice physique… but a messy heart. Take for example the person whose home looks clean and tidy when you walk in, but you better not open a drawer or a cupboard because the mess was never really cleaned, it was just stuffed away out of sight. A funny thing about that process is that even we forget sometimes that the stuff is in there or forget where we even put something!
Things become lost – like souls.
I’m not at all saying that someone cannot master both home and heart. What I am saying is this: Be kind and loving to your people, especially if you’re raising children. Our children grow up to be other versions of us, or worse, versions of the mess we stuff away in cupboards or sweep under the rug, and you never know how that’s going to come out. For me, it comes out as anxiety, a kind of frozen, soft-serve mess. For others it might come out like a spotless home, but a frozen heart, and for still others it might look like abuse. We raise these little people sometimes without remembering that other people have to deal with them after they leave our care or we leave this world. If you’re going to leave a mess behind, let it be the dog nose-print on the window kind, or the home overflowing with fun kind — not a person, or not the mean-spirited, heartless, not enough, or anxiety-in-skin kind that hides away or projects onto others. Your spotless home might be something to be proud of, but don’t make it meaningless in the grand scheme of it all, or a miserable place to be for those with whom you share it.
Appearances are just that – something to see; but a kind and giving heart is something to behold and cherish.
I wish there would have been some kind of universal understanding from teachers and education systems like the mother in the story below when I was a kid in school. I’m still that kid in an adult body, really. (Just ask anyone who has had to be on Zoom calls with me this past year or so during this pandemic!) Thankfully, my mother had a great understanding of who I was. The story reminds me so much of two of my kids, Nate and Ben (for different reasons). They’re grown now, by the way. Nate was exactly this kid, and Ben was not a cookie cutout for learning well inside of the normal school box. Their other younger brother and sister, Josh and Jaz, special, glorious, beautiful, and geniuses in their own ways, operated differently and more easily inside the common structures of our school systems.
I should point out here that these are the observations of a mother, not their own observations or anyone else’s – just from a mama who wished for a world where her children could “just” belong in their completeness, perfection, and just absolute delicious individuality. I’ll never stop wishing and working to have that for them, my grandchildren… for ALL of us.
Nate was literally always looking around, as was mentioned very often by his teachers, “daydreaming,” they said. They didn’t understand that he was doing his best to problem-solve things at home and the woes of the entire world. They didn’t understand or see him trying to grow strong and broad shoulders, and the pressures he felt to do so.
They didn’t see what his individual genius was, and some still don’t.
They didn’t see that he was the one playing with the kids no one else wanted to play with because they were different in some way, always caring about them, protecting and defending them. We had our fair share of appointments in the school office because he chose to defend the kids that were getting picked on, and it mostly left him wondering why that was a problem and why no one was doing that for him at school, too. (Y’all know his mama was in that office though!)
He was (is) always aware of his surroundings, oftentimes with more attention paid to that than what was sometimes in front of his nose. I guess it’s no surprise that he became a firefighter and paramedic. His observing is oft times greatly mistaken for being unaware, not listening, not caring, not trying hard enough. It’s such a hugely inaccurate conclusion. I guess that must be the easiest conclusion to make. 🤷🏻♀️❓ (Do better here, folks.) Trust me, he knows more than he lets on and more than you think. He always has.
His empathy runs as deep as his feelings. If he’s quiet, he is learning and observing, or he just doesn’t trust you or your judgment and might even think you’re full of shit – and he’s right – a lot. He has always had a deep well of forgiveness that is long-standing that even I at times have a hard time comprehending. This is another misunderstood piece about him that people sometimes mistake for weakness — another ridiculous societal “norm.”
Ben would look around, trying to find the deeper information, thinking about the next thing. It would annoy some of his teachers, so I had to let them know sometimes that he was two steps ahead of them already and had lost interest, and on several occasions that they weren’t challenging him enough, giving him the space to expand his mind in the way that he needed to, and that it was they who should try harder to keep up with him.
They didn’t see what his individual genius was, and some still don’t.
There came a point when his father, grandparents and I finally realized that the boxed-in culture of most schooling and the organizational skills taught were not a fit for him. Once we gave that up and gave him room for his own system for accomplishing and finishing things, it was better for all of us! One time I was discussing this with a friend, and he said, “Is he in Special Ed?” (💭 Wait, what? 😳) You see, this is the filters so many of us operate through, tragically, and we end up othering the children we should be learning from. (Again, I repeat, do better, folks!) I said, “Yes, actually, he’s in the Baccalaureate program at his high school… (💭you f’ing idiot)!”
Ever-curious, ever-seeking new information and understanding about the world around him and the people involved, it’s no surprise that he grew up to be a scientist of the Earth (geology) and has deep feelings about and for the people that reside on it. He will say the “hard things” about various institutionalized and systemic oppressions without regret. When he loves you, it’s probably forever, though the depth may vary and you may not realize it. He is bigger in spirit and intelligence than his physical stature, which is often way underestimated by many because of judgmental societal expectations about how big and tall men need to be. (Lorrrrrdy, we have so much to get better about!)
Imagine the world we would have if we allowed space for individuals to be seen perfect and whole just as they are with all of their natural gifts.
Here is the passage which had me write my content above: My daughter handed me her school progress report. Although it displayed a steady stream of positive check marks, there was one check mark standing dejectedly alone from the rest.
“How am I doing, Mom?” my child asked with a level of maturity that did not match the small dishevelled person gazing up at me with smudged eyeglasses that teetered on the tip of her nose. With her small finger, she pointed to her teacher’s neatly printed words next to the lone check mark.
It read, “Distracted in large groups.” But I already knew this. I knew this long before it was written on an official report card. Since she was a toddler, this child has offered astute observations of the world around her.
After pointing out all the positives on the progress report, I told her what was written. Upon hearing the news, she gave a tiny, uncertain smile and shyly admitted, “I do look around a lot.”
But before my child could feel one ounce of shame, one iota of failure, I came down on bended knee and looked her straight in the eye. I didn’t want her to just hear these words, I wanted her to feel them. This is what I said:
“Yes. You do look around a lot. You noticed Sam sitting off by himself with a skinned knee on the field trip, and you comforted him.”
“You noticed Banjo had a running nose, and the vet said it was a good thing we brought him in when we did.”
“You noticed our waitress was working really hard and suggested we leave an extra good tip. You noticed Grandpa was walking slower than the rest of us so you waited for him.”
“You notice the beautiful view every time we cross the bridge to go to swim practice.”
“And you know what? I don’t ever want you to stop noticing because that is your gift. It is your gift that you give to the world.”
As I watched my daughter beam with the glow of acceptance, I realized her approach to life had the power to change the world.
You see, we are all just waiting for someone to notice—notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage.
And the one who notices is a rare and beautiful gift.
I hear a lot lately about cancel culture. I’m sure it has its negative impacts, as I can see how we might want to jump the gun or be specifically harsh to someone if our feelings have been hurt in some way. I can also see how it is necessary if someone is toxic or dangerous to our very being. More specifically, today I got to thinking about people that claim to love us or have our highest interests at heart — someone we live with, a spouse, a neighbor, a relative, or a friend.
Sometimes people just aren’t for you, even if they have love for you. Sometimes people just are not your tribe, or someone truly isn’t your person. Everyone has some kind of genius inside of them, and you will know your tribe by the fact that they not only recognize it, but they actually celebrate it, and they might even recognize it in you before you realize it. That’s your tribe; that’s your person!