We stood at the gate to the White House one recent evening, checking in when I started to get a sinking feeling. What name did I submit, married or maiden? It’s an ongoing problem for me and I blame it on too many things, all stemming back to my worst attribute, indecision. Meeting my husband, getting engaged within six weeks and married within eleven months was a whirlwind.
When we got married, I had been working at The University of Mary Washington for over a decade where I was known as Dr. Vashee, a role that gave me a strong sense of identity. Hence adopting a new last name, which was phonetically easy but visibly complicated to pronounce was a difficult decision to make, and I took my time with it. I didn’t want to go to work and change my name, after working at that institution for so long, it seemed silly to establish a new name. It didn’t help that my friend Julene who got married the previous year told me that changing her name immediately after marriage was the worst thing she did and she felt that she lost her identity overnight. I was already on the fence at that point and I’m pretty sure her statement was the deciding point for me.
As for the hyphenating, my nieces Maya and Leena advised me strongly against a hyphenated last name; they planned to change their very long hyphenated last names as soon as it was legally possible. That helped me rule out a hyphenated last name. It was all a lot to think about so I kept my maiden name and went along my merry married way. I know it irritated my husband, especially when he was addressed as Mr. Vashee, unless it meant he was getting a discount from the mulch guy, or any vendor who used to service my parents business for years and now did occasional home improvements for us. When the topic arose, my husband indicated that he would like to be more of a ‘family,’ and have the same name.
Like all good wives (right!) I wanted him to be happy so after five (yes FIVE) years, I changed my name on my social security card and presented it to him in a birthday card. He was thrilled but it was that kind of feigned happiness where you know he feels like, This should have happened anyway, it’s not a birthday kind of thing.
When it came time to renew my passport a few years ago, I changed my name which made it much more official. I’ve actually noticed that since I had my children, I go almost exclusively by my married name. I want to make sure that the schools, their friends, etc., are aware that I’m their mom. Except…I haven’t taken the steps to make it official everywhere….my credit cards, driver’s license (I know, I know…unacceptable, I know!), credit cards, hotel and frequent flier numbers and the list goes on and on and on…. It’s always an issue when we book a flight, I can’t necessarily remember which name I used so I have to check. I felt the same way when I voted last week. I was asked for my last name and I had to pause because I had no idea which one I used. Usually it’s fine but yesterday it was not fine.
As I was standing at the gate of the White House, being turned away, I realized that enough is enough - names. At our school bus stop a few weeks earlier, a neighbor mentioned that his wife works at the White House. We were full of questions about her experience there. Our son is in the same class as their little boy and the boys ride the bus to school together. To our surprise, his mom, Addison, sent us some dates and asked us to pick one for not only a White House tour but for a tour of the West Wing. It was all very exciting. The tour was limited to six so my parents joined our family of four. I had to send in our names and social security numbers along with other key information. I was especially touched to find out that Addison had taken her day off, Sunday, to drive all the way to DC to give us this tour, something she had not done is over three years.
We met outside the White House but when we went to check in, there was a problem with my ID. My driver’s license was still in my maiden name but the name I submitted was my married name. I realized that in writing out my husband and children’s names, I just wrote mine the same way, not thinking about what was on my driver’s license.
Finally my husband told the kids they were doing the tour, without mommy. He sent me a text a few minutes later to let me know they missed me. Again a text about how much better it would be if I were there. Yet another to let me know he loves me. The next text was about the kids being bored and that’s when the text messages began to go downhill. Rather, they were about them being disinterested, running around too much and complaining about the tour. I may as well have been there because I felt like I knew what was going on…except I didn’t because I was outside the gates. I was surprised because my son loves museums; he loved even the Portrait Gallery, which would have been boring for most children. He was appalled and embarrassed about their behavior. Note to self, they do not like being out of the house in the evening and even the White House does not change that fact. Our host and tour guide, Addison, was gracious and generous. She provided an in-depth informative tour, which my husband and parents raved about. My dad is still talking about it today and he is hoping to see some news from the White House pressroom now that he knows exactly how it looks. Addison also gave the children and our entire group White House chocolates and a challenge coin from her office. She had clearly planned ahead and her thoughtfulness made me feel worse.
On the way home during a semi-silent, semi-apologetic, semi-annoyed husband car ride, he asked me what name I used for the flights we just booked to the Bahamas. I didn’t want to even admit it to him but I honestly have no idea. This insanity obviously needs to end so I plan to go to the DMV this week and remedy the situation. I love my new identity where I’m most frequently referred to me as Asha’s mom or Rohan’s mom. When I volunteer in the classroom, the children call me Mrs. Rohan’s mom and this morning one boy asked if he could just call me Mrs. R. “Sure” I responded. I can’t believe I was so hung up on my “identity” for so long. It evolves as life evolves and I love exactly where I am now. I had a lot of time to think about, you see, it as I waited in the car outside the White House while my family took the tour.