When I was in the fourth grade, Mrs. Melting wanted us to write about something we didn’t like about ourselves. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of a single thing (oh the joy of being in fourth grade). Mrs. Melting offered helpful suggestions: “your hair? The color of your eyes? how short you are?”Nope. I was okay with all of that. “Your middle name?” Well…..maybe. It’s Loy, after my mom’s middle name, and I’d not thought much about it. I mean, no one else has a middle name like that. I guess that could be what I don’t like about myself….
So I wrote two pages on wide lined notebook paper about how hard it was to be Jennifer Loy. It’s a strange name, I said. Unlike my friends’ middle names, like Jean and Susan and Marie, you never meet anyone named Loy. It was a well crafted fourth grade essay, with a compelling introduction and strong conclusion, along with all that lament-y evidence on the way. I got an A.
Then I brought it home and read it to my mom. I had some clever sentences, I thought, and it was an A paper, after all. I sat on the end of my parents’ bed while she did her hair in the bathroom. But before I got through the first page, I could tell she didn’t like it.
“Whatsamatter?” I asked. She had stopped taking out curlers and was just looking at me.
“I love your middle name. I gave it to you because my mother gave it to me.” She was even crying, a little. “I’m sorry you don’t like it.”
Suddenly, I realized what I’d done. I’d never minded my middle name at all, and in fact loved how different it was. Even getting in trouble was less devastating because “Jennifer Loy” just sounds kinda neat. The fact that it was my mom’s made it extra cool, and the idea of my grandma choosing a name for her that she later chose for me made me all tingly and historically-connected-feeling. Plus, I’d never made my mom cry from things I’d written down before.
I quickly changed gears. Oh, wait, that was the first draft, I told her. Here, let me read you the revised one. And then I made up an essay, looking at the clever, unkind words I’d written, all about how much I loved my middle name. How it was a gift from my mother and her mother before her, and all the Susans and Maries and Jeans would never have to spell their middle names, maybe, but they also didn’t have my awesome mom.
Even though it didn’t meet the assignment requirements, I think my revised draft was much better than the first. Sorry, Mrs. Melting, for not having anything to dislike about myself when I was 9.