What’s in a Name

He shoots across the threshold, drops his backpack at my feet, and shouts, “Hi Mom, bye Mom.” I barely glimpse his spray of freckles as he emerges from his bedroom in a swimsuit carrying an extra-large water gun.


Lifting the keychain clad backpack from the floor, I heave it to the countertop. My son’s identity is shaped by superheros, cartoons, and movie characters dangling from his knapsack’s zippers.

Opening the first compartment, I pull out wads of notebook paper scribbled with dates, word lists, and mathematical problems. He has survived fourth grade and I am staring at the remnants of the school year.

I unwrap each piece of paper and carefully weigh its place as keepsake or trash.  A math workbook with pages torn from its binding is added to the trash bin. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing, Charlotte’s Web, once pristine now dog eared and worn, are put in the keep pile. Notes I never saw, photos, and a yearbook are placed in the appropriate places.

charlie and the cf
charlottes web

Finally, I open his Writer’s Notebook. A portfolio designed to show progress in spelling, creativity, and sentence structure.  The first page is a letter to me. I smile. Our lives have been chaotic and his note tells me how he’s learning to read and write better.

There’s a thank you note written to the host of a field trip, a story about his brother, and an essay on the reason he doesn’t like his name—each written three times, each showing improvement. I shake my head—I love his name.

justin name essay

Outside the window, I see a gang of elementary kids squirting each other with water weapons. It is a blue-sky, last-day-of-school kind of afternoon.  My little boy with the angel-kissed nose may not like his name, but his father and I picked it when the world was filled with dreams and hopefulness.

Flipping the page, I think of his dad and how proud he would be if he could see his son: Funny, respectful, energetic.

I glance at the last essay unprepared for what I would read. My precious 10 year old writes:

justin dad died essay

Like the others, this essay is written three times. I read each one through tear-filled eyes, crying for my loss, crying for his father’s loss, but most of all, crying for the boy who will never really know the man who gave him his name.

justin and dad0001
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