Dear Cherished Heart,
When I got married I took my husband’s last name because it represented the umbrella under which we would exist as a family. I was thirty-one and fully independent. However, tradition felt like a comfortable bedfellow and I sunk into my new last name as if it were God-given.
Now, friends have asked me why I changed my name so quickly after separating from my husband of two decades. I think most mothers presume they will keep the last name of their children regardless of marital status. I thought that too.
I have had protective coverings for my kids and myself throughout our lives. When they came to watch me play soccer, I threw a pop-up tent into the air and we watched it land softly on the sidelines creating a little house, safe from the elements and filled with pillows, blankets, snacks, and games.
Whether the kids watched me play soccer from their nylon haven or I watched them play in rain, sleet, or snow, we were protected. At one game the rain fell as if the pipes in heaven had burst; if not for the over-sized golf umbrella I kept in my vehicle year round, we would have been soaked. My husband and I stood side-by-side underneath the wings of the canopy, held momentarily secure and dry.
But with separation, someone has to move out from underneath the umbrella.
When we gathered our kids together after a seven-month trial separation to tell them that the counselling, date nights, and attempt to re-build had fallen short of its goal, and that we were separating for real, our thirteen-year-old son had one question, “Will Mom have to get a job?”
The air paused, I mean it COMPLETELY stopped swirling.
“Your mom’s job hasn’t changed,” my husband said, “She is still going to look after you guys. Because of my job your mom has had to work harder. She does her job and part of mine because I have to … no, I choose to work so much.”
We had decided long ago that I would manage the home-front; I wanted to be a full-time mom and it made everyones lives more manageable if I “stayed” home. My husband appreciated how hard I worked and often applauded my efforts given some difficult situations. Never had he spoke of his propensity for work as a “choice” before, nor had he stated that I covered for him.
My take-away was that we all understood my “job” would not change. The umbrella of support would remain.
Six months later we sat across a large glass table from each other working with a financial divorce specialist. In the middle of the table sat a small mason jar filled with red heart-shaped suckers—a caustic joke. Beside that, a magazine, Divorce: Is Your Life Changing? flashed like a beacon, lest we forget why we were there.
This place of discussion would not provide a legal document but one that would reveal our intentions and sort through twenty years of shared living. Over four meetings we catalogued assets and debt and then divided them like pieces of a rich chocolate bar, neither of us wanting to part with the goodness but knowing that sharing was the right and only option.
My heart’s position beneath a plate of armour allowed me to stay emotionally balanced. My has-band* came dressed in a jacket of starched professionalism. Given our long-standing ability to get along no-matter-what, conflict retreated to the corners of the room until the final moments. And then my has-band leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands together at his chest and spoke to the financial divorce specialist about me and my job. As each syllable rounded and fell from his lips, time slowed down and I became aware that everything had changed.
The ribs of the umbrella snapped as if a fist crushed them from above. My head and heart slammed into the wall of my own denial. I never imagined a life without him. I knew that separation meant we would no longer be married, that we would not live together, but I had no idea that I would lose the backbone of him in my life. I felt like a fool.
I see the family name as an umbrella that guards and protects as well as creates a secure base from which to fly out from and return to. When I realized that this was no longer my base I had to step out into the elements, feel the full force, and then open up my own umbrella.
Part of that was changing my last name.
Yes, our family unit has been shaken—something every parent tries to avoid. I spoke to my teenage kids about changing my name and they understood. In re-claiming my maiden name, nothing has changed my connection to my kids. A new canopy opened in my life and at first if felt pretty lonely; all the people connected to my previous name have changed or moved in other directions. But I find that I can invite people in or leave my sanctuary and move safely under the umbrellas of those who care about me.
*has-band= has been + husband