When my son was born, and he was handed back to me, once I’d been tended to, all wrapped up, I noticed the little tag around his ankle.
To match mine.
And I remember panicking – I was young and didn’t understand at the time – because I thought that meant he might not have his father’s surname as we’d planned.
Back then, I assumed we’d all be Darrochs one day. I wanted my son to carry on his father’s name, and I was quite happy to give that name to my son. In any case, it certainly sounded a lot better to me and it felt right.
Since I split from my son’s father, that decision sometimes comes back to haunt me.
As fate would have it, or maybe just coincidence, I have met a man with the same surname as me. And I fell in love with him. To most, particularly in paperwork, we’re husband and wife. And we don’t mind that. We just smile and go along with it, because explaining our story of how we met and how many strange coincidences we have, is just too long. So, our house is full of Taylors. Even the cats.
Aside from one.
And that’s so strange to me. My closest family member of all and, on paper, it’s almost like he’s part of a different family.
And then there’s the little things Like – I can’t buy signs that say daft things like “Christmas with the Taylors”. Because it’s not. And at the same time, it would be weird to celebrate another name, a name whose family I don’t belong to.
Then there’s the nursery invoice that I pay every term. And still, every time, I get confused when I see that surname pop up.
Then there’s imagining a future sibling and worrying that there would be an odd-one-out.
They are all such little things, I remind myself, because that doesn’t make a family. Day-to-day, we’re just Mama, Marky (or sometimes Marky Sharky if Bill has his way) and Bill (or William when he’s being naughty).
Over the weekend, we queued up with our passports, ready to board a ship. We were chattering away excitedly and Mark was making Bill laugh with his toys, making them tickle him, and I remember handing over the paperwork absentmindedly, expecting to be on our way.
The first one she picked up was William’s. And she processed it, ticked his name off the list, and stamped his set-sail pass.
I remember thinking how much quicker it was, more relaxed, than when we went on holiday last year, and flew on a plane.
And then she picked up mine. She opened it. And paused.
She picked up Mark’s. And she opened it. And paused.
And then she looked up and asked me what relation I was to my son.
And I remember my face dropping.
I felt it. My cheeks just lost their smile. I couldn’t get them to go back up. I tried to explain. I ended up panicking and feeling nervous and sometimes, when that happens, I babble. I tried to be honest and explain the long story of me and Mark, and then I had to, in turn, tell her our family makeup.
And she and two other colleagues just stared back at me.
She took Bill’s passport and boarding details away to discuss with her boss, and we waited.
At that moment I tried really hard not to cry.
I kept trying to swallow. And blink. And breathe.
I just wanted to enjoy our little break with my family. Just five minutes ago we were a normal family. We were excited. And carefree.
She came back and told me that, on this occasion, as it was organised and a press trip, it’s fine, but next time I should bring some proof to say I’m his mother.
At that moment, I have to be honest, I hated her. I know that she was just following protocol, and that it was her job, but I felt rage and shame bubble up in my chest.
I wanted to show her the stretch marks he gave me. I wanted her to know I breastfed him for 18 months. I wanted her to see the letters I wrote him every week for the first year of his life. I wanted her to see the tears I’d cried for him, pool at her feet. I wanted to remove my makeup and show her the dark circles that never leave. I wanted to show her the bills I paid on my own, as I struggled as a single parent. I wanted her to know how unfazed I am when he misses the toilet, or the potty. I wanted her to hear the range of voices I can use when I read a bedtime story. I want her to see the pile of washing I’d left at home, how many tiny tops I’d folded, and tiny socks I’d paired. I wanted her to look, just for a moment, very hard, and see how, actually his face, may as well be mine, how, while he certainly resembles his dad in many ways, he’s my double. And I wanted her to look deeper, right into my heart, right into the very core of me and feel how much I loved him.
I walked away and wiped a tear from each cheek. It’s all I would allow.
Except in that moment, I felt so desperate for her to believe me. For her to just know, as for me, it’s so obvious. My love for my son is so raw and open. Like a cut that won’t heal.
I felt a genuine sense of panic and I had to work really hard to push it from my mind for the rest of the weekend.
And it worked. Until this evening, when I checked my emails and saw a nursery invoice with that surname.
And I was reminded.
And so I wanted to write. Not because it will make any difference. Not because protocol will change. Or it will make it better.
But because it needed to be said.
I am his mother.
No one else.
For him, it doesn’t matter what name I was given, because there’s only one I will answer to when he calls.