I was just heading down the hill after dropping my daughter off at school yesterday morning, my umbrella clutched tightly in my hand against the February rain. As I dodged the throngs of people rushing here and there in the moments after the bell rang, I saw the smiling face of a six-year-old emerge from the crowd. She is one year younger than my daughter, and they’re in the same grade one/two split class. When the little girl saw me she paused and called, “Hi, Hannah’s mom!”
This phenomenon started seven years ago for me, when my then-one-year-old started daycare. In the midst of the parental guilt and the new lunch box and the indoor shoes packed carefully in a backpack labelled with my daughter’s name, a subtler transformation took place. No longer did we travel through the world as Amber and her daughter. Once my child started spending time away from me, we became Hannah and her mom. In my 30th year I went from being the person whose full name is written on the invitation to being the plus one. Miss Hannah Strocel and Guest.
The other parents and I joke about the fact we don’t know each other’s names. There are people who I have spent years sitting beside at the playground after school, chatting with, who I identify solely as So-and-So’s Mom. My cell phone contact list is now filled with entries that read something like Jane Doe – John Doe’s Mom. Because if I just listed poor Jane by her own name, I would have no idea who she was. It’s all okay, though, because I am listed in Jane’s phone as Amber – Hannah’s Mom. At some point, you surrender to the inevitable.
At school, we’re not Jacob, Amber and Hannah, we’re Jacob, Hannah and their mom
While I have had years of experience as Hannah’s mom, the process took me by surprise again when my son Jacob started daycare at three years old. I remember becoming confused as I filled out his forms. I made several mistakes, accidentally filling in either my own information, or my daughter’s. Once again, a child of mine was entering the world in his own right, and I felt disoriented. I had to shift my mindframe from being the moderator of all my child’s experiences, to being the woman with no name, smiling and nodding at other parents as we drop our children off in the morning.
There was a time when I knew everything that my children did, because I spent almost every waking moment with them – and a good portion of the sleeping ones, too. When I made the decision to send them out into the world on their own, I knew I would lose that. I didn’t expect to lose my own identity in the process. On the contrary, I thought that the separation would allow me to reclaim my identity. Although maybe it’s not really about losing or reclaiming anything. Maybe it’s just about taking on a new identity, that of a parent allowing my child to take first billing. They are becoming their own people, with their own social circles. I am still at the centre of their lives, but it’s right that they’re bringing other people into the mix, as well.
Yesterday morning, as Hannah’s friend waved at me and called, “Hi, Hannah’s mom!” I smiled and waved back. I used her first name, and didn’t bother correcting her and telling her what my first name was. The truth is, it’s not about me. For now, I’m just glad that my children are forming friendships, and that those friends smile when they see me. What they call me doesn’t matter half as much as those two things, so for now I am content to be the woman with no first name.