“Sing me one more song, Mama,” Sadie implored from her bed as I stood up to leave. I could see a sliver of my bed from her open door, and it beckoned me like the Promise Land beckoned Moses (or was that Noah? or was it Jesus? Why can’t I remember anything about the Bible?) “Oh, alright,” I sighed and grabbed her bedpost to steady myself as I lowered down to my knees so I could look into her eyes. “What do you want to hear?”
Sadie’s face scrunched up as it always does when she does her best thinking. I was expecting her to say, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” or “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me.”
She made a little humming sound, which made me think of old fashioned juke boxes that whir when they are finding the song you just paid a quarter for.
“What’s your name?” Sadie finally said.
“I don’t know that song. Is that something Daddy made up?” I asked, racking my brain to think of what song from Jeff’s Seal-Sting-Paul Simon collection could possible be called “What’s your name?”
“No, Mommy, what’s your name?” Sadie repeated, exasperated.
While there is a fine line between stalling at bedtime and having a conversation, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it would be worth squatting down for.
“You know my name is Christie.”
“Yes, but Mama, what’s your other name?”
“You mean my last name? Sweetie, you know my last name is Tate.”
“How come it’s not like mine and Daddy’s and Simon’s?”
Oh processed cheese spread on a Ritz cracker! She was asking me to tell her why I don’t share her last name. I didn’t know she would pick up on that so soon. Is this how Angelina felt when Zahara asked her why she wasn’t married to Brad?
I had a decision to make: I could give her my understanding of women’s history, including the parts where women used to be chattel, or I could keep it more simple. I decided no matter what happened, I was not going to utter the word, “patriarchy,” because I was too tired to go there.
“Mama already had a last name when she met Daddy, but when you and your brother were born you didn’t have one yet. So you got to have Daddy’s.”
I could see Sadie staring at me with that scrunchy thinking face again. I didn’t want to talk down to her, but I also wasn’t prepared to explain what it meant to me to keep my name (and identity) to a three year old. My three year old. She didn’t care about politics; she wanted to know why one of these things was not like the other.
“How about Elmo’s song?” Sadie said, suddenly breaking the reverie.
“Sure, I can sing that,” and I gave those “la la la’s” some extra gusto for my baby girl.
Once I made it to my pillow-topped Promise Land, I closed my eyes and wondered how other people sort out the personal and the political, especially when their kids look them in the eye and say, “Why, Mama?”