How to be called (on your birthday)
11 February 2013
So, we call you Jack, now.
I mean, we've always called you Jack. Your grandparents, aunts, uncles and sister call you Jack, and it has bounced between our tongues in our home from the moment we carried you into that first apartment. But to others, to the outsiders, to those whom we love but are still somewhat separate from our tight crew, you have always been Jackson. Until now.
You love the story we tell, of how we chose your name. We wanted something strong; fun but formal; something that wouldn't hem you in, confine or define you. Your dad loved CS Lewis before I did, so that when he told me he'd like to call you Jack after him, I hadn't a clue. He gave me Surprised by Joy to read, in which Lewis offers up the proof: when he was four he named himself Jacksie after the dead dog. He would answer to nothing else, till after awhile he was somehow convinced to go by Jack, and there you have it.
I thought Jack was fine, though short. Being a Karen, I'd always wanted a classic name for formality, but a nickname for familiarity, so we compromised. You became a Jackson.
Just two weeks ago, on your first day of your new school in a new country, the principal was trying to squeeze you into a class. He checked with the teachers and the classes, and all the while you sat there with a big smile on your face, unafraid to be new. We're living an adventure, that's what we tell you. And, thank God, you're starting to believe it.
He came back to the office, successful in finding your place, barely looked up from your enrollment sheet and said, "So your name's Jackson, is that right?"
"Yep," you replied, smile still in place.
"Do you mind if we call you Jack? How 'bout we just call you Jack."
Not a question, but a statement. Here you are called Jack. You sign your name Jack. On the papers and the backpack and the tracksuit your name reads Jack. You have become new again. Your identity is coming into view.
I worried that you'd miss Jackson. Apart from family, you've always ever been Jackson to everyone else. But you said no. You said you liked being Jack here. You said it reminded you of family, that you were going back to your roots. "After all, you named me after CS Lewis, and he was a Jack. So I'm a Jack, too."
So, we call you Jack, now. On the eve of your 10th birthday, when I remember all those years ago practicing the full length of your name in cursive, then shortened, then in print, then typed in different fonts, I wondered what you'd end up being. I had it in my silly little mind that we were somehow creating you.
The truth is, we only chose the name, but you have chosen everything else.
You chose how to trust, how to make do, how to look on the bright side, how to create, how to imagine, how to be kind, how to get along, how to organize your clothes in your dresser, how to wear your hair, how to sign your name, how to be brave and now... how to be called.
I was afraid I'd mess you up somehow, I was afraid to hold you for a long time, I was afraid to cut your hair, and then I was afraid at each passing birthday. "Oh time," I thought, "you move too fast! Soon he will be gone!"
But I'm beginning to take my cue from you. When I pray courage for you, when you choose courage, I pray it and choose it for myself. You go forward with joy and excitement, you pass time with ease, and every day is an adventure in the story you are writing.
Like the author we named you after - Jack - you are chasing after Aslan.
And I am following close behind you.
A love letter to the eldest on his 10th birthday, who is choosing what - and how - to be called. What do you want to be called?