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The Life Lessons I Learned When I Change My Name in First Grade

I was five years old in Miss Judy’s kindergarten when I saw my full name written out for the first time. Hilary Blake Palmer. Written in my mother’s perfectly perfect handwriting. I can see the blue book bag (all my things were blue or yellow and my sister’s were red or pink) hanging on a hook in the classroom in Miss Judy’s house.

It felt so odd to see my name, to know it was my name and yet not know who this person was. For my entire life my family and friends called me by my middle name, Blake. I only knew myself as Blake or Lacey and Blake or Blake and Lacey or the Palmer twins. Never Hilary. She was a mystery.

I’ll tell you how I remember my becoming Hilary and you can ask my mother to tell you her story. We’ve not talked much about it since I became an adult. My mother says she thought it was a phase and let it go.

In the first grade, I realized Blake was both a girl name and a boy name. In fact, two or more boys a bit younger than me were also named Blake. For a girl in the first grade in 1986 Mississippi nothing could be much worse than having a boy’s name! Or so I thought.

Lucky me. I had another name. An unused name. So I decided I wanted to be Hilary. Not Blake. Looking back it’s one of the first instances I can remember of my deciding and then doing, not really considering that it might not work. For a year or maybe more, maybe less, I corrected people when they called me Blake.

“I’m Hilary,” I’d say. For some reason, they listened.

One day in the midst of my name-change revolution, my Papaw called my name and I refused to answer him. He called again.

“I’m Hilary,” I corrected him.

“You answer me when I call you,” he replied, equally as strong-headed.

Eventually, even he gave in my insistence.

As a parent now I think back to what my own parents must have thought. I was not the easiest kid they had. How many nights did they lay in bed and snicker over my latest strong-headed stunt and lift up thanks for my sweet, kind-hearted twin sister? And yet they let me steamroll right over anyone who challenged my name change.

Like I said, my mother thought it was a phase. She planned to let it play out until I was tired of it. My parents chose Hilary just as they chose Blake. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Perhaps their ability to see through the small struggles is one of the most important life lessons I learned from them.

In my own parenting I find myself in head-to-head combat with my kids sometimes and most of the time it’s over nothing. It feels like everything. I’m the parent. I have to win all the battles. But do we have to fight all the battles? No. Most issues just aren’t worth it. They stress us out and stress our kids out and draw battle lines where we should be fighting together instead of against each other.

A new shift in parenting looms on the horizon as my oldest trips into the realm of teenagers. I’m not old enough to be the mother of a teenager! The mountains we’ll scale together in the next few years will be some of the most important and perilous and dizzyingly fun of his entire life. And I’m going to have to choose which ones really matter enough to die on and which ones I can let him manage his way. I had some good examples in my own parents, but say a prayer for me. As you can see I’m not very good at letting go of getting my way.

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