Friday, May 25, 2012

absolutely perfect

"Chrysanthemum did not think her name was absolutely perfect. She knew it!" — Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes (2007, Greenwillow Books)
background from schnitzgeli1
part of the fun of being a parent is giving your children nicknames. i used to think they were just ways to be silly. and they are that! but they're a bit more. having a nonsense name (or ten) for our child is one more way on a long list of ways that we savor "knowing" them – knowing them like no one else ever will or can. i always loved when my dad called me Peanut. you could feel the love in his voice, the love of familiarity – but also something more. father's day is coming up, and i'm reminded i'm still his Peanut. having kids of my own, i understand this feeling from the other side now.

the nonsense name i go to the most with both my girls is SweetPea. but depending on the occasion, there are many more. Bushel Britches. Pumpkin Britches. Cutey Pants. Poopy Drawers. (hm, i'm sensing a theme here.) Sunshine and Baby for daughter no. 2, and Big Girl and Sweet One for daughter no. 1.

yet if given names carry a momentous weight – "this is the name by which you will forever be known (probably) because we put it on your social security card, dangnabit!" – then nicknames are the less formal way of pulling rank. "your friends may call you Cady. but you'll always be Bushel Britches to us, and there's nothing you can do about it." there are echoes of parental authority here, smoothed over with goofiness. as moms and dads, we really can't help ourselves. when we look at our kid and get that feeling of "otherness" mixed with the longing to hold on, it's the act of naming we turn to. not so much to have a sense of control as to give a name to the overflowing love we feel for such a tiny human and to communicate in our clumsy way an emotion they won't understand until they are parents themselves.

or am i being too liberal arts-ish?

epilogue: came across this classroom discussion guide for Chrysanthemum. worthwhile questions for parents and children to extend the reading experience, too. anything by Kevin Henkes is worth a read, by the way. Owen is another familiar favorite of ours.

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