The Year of More is all about giving up the new in order to use and appreciate what I already have and yet, through one of life’s unexpected twists and turns, I have just taken on a new name and it seems like the most natural thing in the world to do. I truly adore how life can be so incredibly random, surprising and enriching!
I never thought I’d be spending money on the following during The Year of More:
1. Change of Name Application - $102.50
2. Credit History Report - $69.95
3. A year’s membership to ancestry.com - $214.00
4. New passport - $244.00
5. Change of Name Kit - $29.95*
6. New return address labels - $16.97**
* The Best $30 I Have Ever Spent… seriously. I spent five minutes ticking boxes and within an hour, more than thirty letters and forms arrived in my inbox! It has literally saved me hours and hours of time searching for websites and contact details and downloading forms.
** Yes, as I confessed in an earlier post, after just two months, I broke my vow to abstain from buying anything from Vista Print for an entire year. But the reason is obviously one I could never in a million years have foreseen. And it seemed crazy to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on changing my name and then not spend $16.97 on some new labels with My New Surname on them!
The first time I changed my surname, I was twenty-six and it was because I had gotten married. That happened twenty years ago this year. Wow.
There seems to be much discussion that goes on these days about women changing their names when they marry but I don't even remember giving it any thought; I guess I just knew I wanted to have the same name as my husband. As it turned out, we were only married for six years and when we divorced, I didn’t change back to my maiden name. It was mostly out of sheer laziness but it was also a practical decision to keep it as no one in the state I now live in, knew me by my maiden name. So it honestly just seemed easier to keep the name I had - I’d always liked the name and couldn’t really see the reason in changing it back.
And after a few years, whatever thought I’d given to it had disappeared completely.
I guess the twentieth anniversary of any major life event gets you thinking about who you were twenty years ago and who you’ve become since then. And for the very first time, it didn’t feel right to keep my married name any longer.
But I didn’t feel a strong pull to change it back to my maiden name either.
I simply wasn’t that young girl any longer.
And then the solution came from a most unexpected source.
It came from the grandmother I never had the opportunity to meet.
A woman, who sadly, even my Mum didn’t know.
She gave Mum up for adoption when she was born and although Mum had her birth certificate with her mother’s full name on it, she had never wanted to find her. I was fascinated by it all when she finally told me and I encouraged Mum to find her family but she was always very adamant it wasn’t something she wanted to do.
When Mum passed away in October 2011, I took a copy of her birth certificate back home with me but it has taken me until now to do anything about it. But I do believe things happen when they’re supposed to and I believe I would never have made the decision to change my surname if I had started looking for her earlier. Synchronicity was clearly working its magic behind the scenes.
I started searching for Mum’s birth mother online over the ANZAC Day weekend and what followed was such an intensely emotional experience that I knew I wanted to take on the surname my mother had never gotten to use. So on 11 June 2014, I officially became Karen Maree Young. It feels wonderful and I don’t think I will ever feel the need or desire to change it again. Regardless of my marital status.
Once again, I have a name connected to me by my DNA. And for the very first time, I am choosing a name I want, rather than inheriting one from my father or sharing one with my husband.
This isn’t something I ever thought I would want to do but there you have it. Life often takes us down the paths we least expect to travel. And I cannot wait to see where this gorgeous path leads me.
At the same time all this was happening, my topic for Writer’s Group was ‘Shakespeare’ and that’s when the words above from Romeo and Juliet inspired me to link everything together. To write a story about the women who came before me, who have inspired me to make this decision. I wrote a diary entry from each of our perspectives and although it was a deeply emotional journey – and reading it out to the beautiful women I share my Writer’s Group with was, quite simply, a profound experience – it has also been unbelievably therapeutic and empowering.
My story is called ‘Love in Three Acts’ and below is the diary entry I wrote in my own voice…
‘11 May 2014
It’s Mother’s Day today. For the last three years I’ve avoided all the Mother’s Day hype as much as possible. I honour Mum in my own way each year by sending some Letterbox Joy to one of my friends who has children. It means I still get to buy a gift and one of the gorgeously worded cards adorning the newsagency walls. And each year I get to surprise a different friend which is just lovely. I also send a letter explaining why I’m doing it and thanking my friend for giving me something to smile about on Mother’s Day. So each year I turn a sad occasion into an Opportunity for Joy and Celebration – for myself and for someone I care about. It’s funny the things that make grief that little bit easier.
I only found out my Mum was adopted when I was a teenager. After she died I found out she was ashamed of it. On her second date with Dad, she nervously said ‘I have something to tell you which may change the way you feel about me… I was adopted’. Dad gorgeously responded with ‘So?’ which put her at ease and he said she didn’t really speak about it much after that. Once I found out, I was so curious about my grandparents and whether I had any aunts or uncles. I went to school with lots of Italian and Greek kids who had a plentiful supply of cousins and I was always so envious of them. Mum and Dad were both only children so I have not one aunt, uncle or cousin to call my own. It always felt strange to me, as though something was missing.
I wonder if Mum felt like that. I’d always wanted to find her family but she’d never wanted me to. I honestly think she was scared of being rejected again. It still makes me feel so sad to think that she might have had brothers and sisters out there somewhere. Having grown up the way she did, she’d always craved having a large family and was devastated that she couldn’t have more children after I was born. Her and Dad applied to adopt a child but their application was denied. She was grateful to have my brother and I of course, and she loved us fiercely. Hesitantly at times, but fiercely nevertheless. I realise now she probably lacked confidence in being a mother, not having had one herself.
It has always fascinated me that she didn’t know her own mother because I couldn’t imagine not knowing her. In my first memories, she’s there. When I was a little girl I had a recurring dream where I was in a market; I was lost and couldn’t find her and I’d wake up screaming and she’d come into my room, gather me up in her arms and reassure me I was safe and that she’d never leave me. She nurtured me and supported me and yes, like any mother-daughter relationship, she annoyed me and frustrated me at times too. But she was there. Always.
It breaks my heart that Mum didn’t have the presence of her mother’s love and support throughout her life.
And my heart has been cracked open that little bit wider over the last few weeks.
Because I believe I’ve found Mum’s birth mother.
Mum has always had a copy of her birth certificate, which has her mother’s name and age on it and I tried to find her years ago but it was pre-Internet and unfortunately I didn’t get very far. But a few weekends ago, I started searching online and I’d found her within half an hour. Well, I still don’t have official verification but I believe in my heart that it’s her - Linda Annie Young. My grandmother. This has been such an emotional experience; one I was not at all prepared for.
As I sit here on Mother’s Day surrounded by memories of Mum, I feel as though my heart’s being squeezed. With love, oh so much love. With sadness, more sadness than I know what to do with right now. But most of all, my heart is being squeezed by the strong hand of regret. Regret that I didn’t find my grandmother earlier. Regret that Mum never got to meet her. Regret that she never got to hold her daughter in her arms again or meet her grandchildren. Linda Annie Young lived to the fabulous age of ninety-one and only passed away in 2003. She died in a small country town Mum and Dad had often visited to spend time with relatives of Dad’s. In my daydreams I picture the two ladies meeting by chance in a shop or restaurant and speaking to each other as strangers, never realising how they are connected. They could have had all that time to be mother and daughter.
Another squeeze of regret takes hold and I let the tears run freely. My eyes are blurry as I type this. I sit like this for quite some time and then a space opens up in my heart and I release the regret to allow room for something greater. Something positive. Something to honour these two women’s lives. I want to mark this occasion with something that links them together; even if I’m the only person alive who will ever fully understand why I’m choosing to do it.
I am going to take on the name Mum never had the opportunity to wear. I am going to change my surname to Young.
Karen Maree Young.
It feels right and I have a feeling it will be a perfect fit.’
To be given that opportunity, and to be heard, accepted and valued, has been such a beautiful and precious experience. I would never have dared to write this blog without it. I would have never felt confident enough to share my innermost thoughts, my unique weirdness, and my wildly sensitive heart with the world, if I hadn’t spent the past four years sharing the words I’ve written in a safe, nurturing environment.
Do some people think I’m strange? Most definitely.
Does it bother me? A little.
Am I going to let that stop me? Absolutely not.
I’ve always felt as though the way I think, feel and act is a little out of the ordinary and that most of the things that are deeply important to me, mean nothing to other people, and vice versa. So when I feel as though people truly understand and ‘get me’, I view that as an enormously precious gift, which I tuck away inside the gentle folds of my heart for safekeeping.
To have people truly understand Who You Are, is an incredible feeling.
So I am also making an effort to honour what other people find important:
The Big Things… to understand why spending an enormous amount of money on a wedding is a dream come true for many women.
Or why some people are so terrified of being single that they stay in unhealthy or unhappy relationships.
And The Not So Big Things… to understand why some people adore scary movies… Boo!
Or why people sometimes laugh at others' misfortunes.
Or The Really Important Things… like understanding why the majority of the planet didn't cry when (SPOILER ALERT) Wilson fell off the raft in the movie ‘Castaway’ (and trust me, I've surveyed people extensively on this very topic!). My love of inanimate objects is endlessly nerdy but it's such an intrinsic part of who I am.
I want to understand others better because none of us can expect the people in our lives to honour the quirks and differences in us, if we don’t also honour the quirks and differences in them.
I don’t always do this well but it’s something I’m aware of wanting to be better at so that’s a start.
I also feel as though I’ve spent a lot of time in the past not doing or saying certain things because I was worried what people would think, or I was scared about what they would say in response. Thankfully, this has changed significantly over the last few years as I've finally been brave enough to embrace those parts of myself I haven't liked very much, to forgive myself for the decisions and situations I could have handled better and to just give myself permission to be ‘me’.
It's through speaking up (even if others don't approve), and making mistakes, and cracking your heart wide open, and exploring This Gorgeous Thing Called Life with fearlessness and a brave new perspective, that you actually figure out what sets your heart on fire, who is important to you, and what brings you the greatest joy.
How can we possibly live joy-filled lives if we don't have a clue where that joy comes from?
The world would be a much simpler place to navigate if we all accepted each other just as we are - our quirks, our beliefs, our decisions, our mistakes, our passions, our hearts, our souls, our ‘us’ness.
I can’t imagine I’m going to change as a person because I’m changing my name but I do feel as though making this decision is one of the ways I can express my ‘me’ness. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t understand why I’ve chosen to do it; I do and I think my gorgeous Mum would understand and support my decision too.
The night my new Birth Certificate arrived in the mail (Very Special Letterbox Joy indeedy!), a friend suggested I light three candles to honour the three female hearts involved and I’m so glad she did as it was such a lovely way to celebrate the beginning of a beautiful new chapter in my life.
(For The Very First Time As…)
Karen Young xo
'The way he said her name made my heart cramp. In all my years of word collecting, I've learned this to be a tried and true fact: I can very often tell how much a person loves another person by the way they say their name. I think that's one of the best feelings in the world, when you know your name is safe in another person's mouth. When you know they'll never shout it out like a cuss word, but say it or whisper it like a once-upon-a-time.' Natalie Lloyd, A Snicker of Magic