Searching for Middle Ground

Although enduring multiple miscarriages over a decade wasn’t easy, I feel no sense of loss about a biological child as we finally finalize the adoption of the Little Monster. If my first pregnancy had carried to term, I would have a seventeen-year-old right now. That’s a mind-blowing thought, but it’s as mind-blowing as the notion that I might wake up tomorrow next to Jon Bon Jovi (the glare off of his teeth would quickly snap me out of that pleasant reverie) or Michael Chabon (who is so potent he caused an infertile woman to conceive simply by standing next to her at a Jewish prayer service*, so at this point in my life I don’t even want to read one of his books within eight miles of a dusty menorah). 

Since my phantom high-schooler and the others that followed are all beyond the realm of reality, their absence is not even a concept that I can grasp, much less grieve over. I can’t imagine anyone other than the Little Monster hollering “Momster!” all the livelong day.

But I felt a sense of loss not only that I hadn’t been able to name my child, but that the Little Monster would be taking my husband’s last name, which I myself had never done. The name suits him, and they are quite the pair, two peas in a pod, and I had no politicized or feminist feelings about matrilineal versus patrilineal surnames for him; I’m no bra-burner, because frankly they cost too damn much. But I did feel a low-grade sorrow that none of the Little Monster’s names were for me or from me or of me, and that we didn’t have a certain FAMILY STAMP OF APPROVAL that a shared name would give us.

He would keep his first name, which I have always loved, and after nine years is an ingrained part of his identity. I assumed he would keep his middle name, too, which was a plain name I wasn’t crazy about. I’m not sure why I took it as a given for three years that his middle name should be kept. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted his middle name to change, too. I mulled it over for days, and one day it came to me, the perfect middle name:

Thomas.

It was obvious once I thought of it.

The middle name that the Man I Married acquired when his dad adopted him. The middle name of MIM’s father, and grandfather, and for all I know great-grandfather.

And it was my great-grandfather’s last name as well—actually, his adopted name also. He boarded a ship in the late 1800s as Manuel Lopes but disembarked that ship in Hawaii as Robert Thomas, to avoid discrimination against the Portuguese. My grandmother was Frances Elizabeth Thomas.

My brother is named Thomas.

As was my cousin Tommy, killed by a drunk driver before he could shuck the diminutive form of his name. I have sometimes thought that the Little Monster resembles Tommy.

The name would unify us as a family. A middle name that would provide middle-ground.

I adored the idea of Thomas as his middle name. I felt married to his having that name the minute I thought of it.

Which terrified me.

What if he didn’t like it? What if he wanted to keep the middle name he already had (though for the most part he had trouble remembering it)? Would I be able to let Thomas go? Surely he had the right to make his own choice. Or did I have the right to name him, knowing that he was too young to fully understand the significance?

I refrained from bringing it up to him. I would be crushed if he didn’t like it, and then I would be faced with a moral decision. Obviously I would have to accept his decision, but I didn’t want to if he said no.

One day he and I took a gloriously nippy and clear December walk. Late autumn leaves crunched underfoot. I took a deep breath and broached the subject.

I explained that there was a name that was from both sides of the family, a name that I adored. I built up the suspense for both of us as I talked about great-grandfathers and brothers and cousins and uncles who all shared the name.

“What is it?” he finally butted in to ask.

“Thomas. Your dad’s middle name,” I said again in a rush. Please please please please please, I thought. “It could be your middle name, too. If you wanted.”

He beamed as if we’d stepped into the end of a rainbow. “Really? Thomas would be my middle name?”

“You would be…” I pronounced his full name, first, middle and last. “Would you like that?”

“Yes,” he said. He smiled the way he smiles on Christmas mornings when he discovers what Santa has left for him.

“I am so happy,” I told him. “So very, very happy.”

At the therapist’s office a few weeks later, as we prepared the Little Monster for what to expect at the adoption court, the therapist once again brought the topic around to the Little Monster’s new full name and its significance as his being a part of a forever family. We had discussed its import several times. “What’s your middle name?” he asked the Little Monster to repeat.

The Little Monster thought hard. “Uhh, George?”

—–

*Read Waiting for Daisy.

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6 thoughts on “Searching for Middle Ground

  1. Jennifer,
    What a great story! I can’t wait to connect with you more! You clearly are a straight-no-chaser-mom! I’ll share this story with my mom and I know she’ll love it!

    Suzy Joor

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