Monday, June 1, 2009

Siblings, But With Different Last Names

“Hi, this is Hayley Krischer, Jake Fentress’s mother.” That’s how I typically introduce myself when I call my five-year-old son’s school, a parent I’ve never met to set up a play date, or Jake’s pediatrician. I am not the only woman on earth who has kept her maiden name and who still uses it. But my story has another set of circumstances. My son has a different last name than me because I am divorced from his father.

The US Census Bureau might suggest that we’re in good company, yet my first-hand data doesn’t agree. I’ve examined Jake’s class list. There’s one child with two dads. Another child with a hyphenated name. (Her mother’s a poet, so I blame the elongated last name on the mother’s own love of letters.) Otherwise, there are no other children with different last names from their mother. We’ve got the Wood’s. The Diamond’s. The Miller's. Each child lives in a two-parent household.

I find myself having pangs of jealousy in the presence of historically-defined nuclear families. My most envious times are at the playground after school, especially on Friday’s when many Dads are present. Who are these children running around with such easy lives? With parents who have the same last names? Whose Daddies live in the same house? I don’t wish for the crumbling of their parents’ marriages. Or do I?

This is God awful, but I find comfort in the statistics. Fifty percent, I think. Soon, my little boy won’t be the only man out. My ex-husband also wishes Jake had another divorced-family peer. He inched up to me at Jake’s soccer game recently and pointed to a tall Asian man. “He and his wife are getting a divorce. Still living together for the kids, but not for long.” We nodded as co-conspirators do. The boy in question seemed happy to kick the soccer ball in front of him and I felt sadness for his family. Really, I did. I don't want to see a kid go through that, as well adjusted as we are, no child wants to see their parents split. But I'm thinking of my little boy.

Today at our pool, I overheard a father say to his son as he gave him a kiss, "I just stopped by to see you guys for a bit. I missed you. Remember, call me once a day. And I'll see you Thursday." The boy nodded and ran back to the pool. Sounded like a custody thing to me. Or maybe it was just a business trip. No ring on the father's finger. I wasn't close enough to look at the mother's hand. There were three kids, and I felt just awful. Jake was a year-and-a-half old when we divorced. He has no memory of his father in our house. This is just the way his life always was. To split at six-years-old as this boy was... very tough.

For now, we have the book, Two Homes, about a little boy named Alex whose mother lives in the city and father lives in the country. Alex has a toothbrush at Mommy’s and a toothbrush at Daddy’s. He has a bed at Mommy’s and a bed at Daddy’s. The repetition of possessions at both homes reinforce that the child is wanted wherever he is. And that the parents love the child wherever he is. Of course, the little boy doesn’t have an Andy like Jake does, but the message is family prevails, even if the court deemed Jake’s family time with his father is every Tuesday, every other Thursday, and every other weekend.

Alex is a boy Jake can relate to and I feel that I’ve done something right as a parent in openly discussing it with him. None of your friends have a family set up like you, my sweet boy, but this Alex – you’re like twins!

Needless to say, my new marriage and three-month-old baby girl, Elke, has put a spin on my who’s-getting-divorced-next obsession. Half-sister is not part of our vocabulary. In fact, one insensitive parent asked my ex-husband, of all people, how Jake was doing with his "half-sister." To the ex's credit, he said: "You mean sister."

I also realize now that with Elke, I have become the exception to my own demented wishes. Marrying later in life helps my changes in my second marriage and the divorce rate is at its lowest since 1970, according to US health officials. This impacts my son and daughter differently.
Still, they have different last names. She's taken the name of her father. He's taken the name of his father.

Me, I've taken the name of my father. And it got me here. So that's that.

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