Once my ex-husband and I sat in front of our mediator, I realized that I could become "Laura Lifshitz" officially again. Not just in spirit, but in fact. Since I'm a mom to a four-year-old, I wondered if the two of us having different last names would be damning. My married name and her last name is a common Latino last name. Our last names would be different and distinctly so. Would it be a pain for people to remember that Ms. Lifshitz is the mom to the little girl with the "other last name?" Would she be upset that my last name is different than hers? I ran through the gamut of possibilities and reactions. I then decided that my girl is young enough to be used to me as Lifshitz and that my last name is so unique that after some time, people involved in my daughter's life would certainly remember that I am the mother of the girl with the "other last name."
Growing up, I heard a lot of jokes for my colorful curse-word inflicted Jewish last name. I have heard it all, so don't even bother. My last name came with such meaning. My town was predominantly Catholic and so picking up the telephone at age 10 to hear someone shout, "Kike!" at me when I didn't even know what it meant? Not an unusual occurrence where I lived. Or what about my two favorite phrases?
"You're really pretty for a Jewish girl."
Or, "You don't look Jewish."
Funny. I hadn't realized that Jewish girls weren't inherently pretty, but apparently according to these enlightened individuals, it was a rarity. Indeed, I look like the Irish/Scottish ancestral side of my family (my mother's background is Irish- Scottish; Dad's background is Russian Jew) with my translucent skin and blonde hair, but still I wondered "What does it mean to look like a Jew? And embarrassedly so, I admit that despite my glorious "I am one of the chosen people" last names, I never got a Jewish education... so don't ask me about the in-depth meaning of Passover. I'm ashamed of what my reply would be.
Then I married a handsome guy with a common Latino last name and wherever I went when people went to look for "Laura with the common Latino last-name"at doctor's offices, hospitals, public institutions, etc., people couldn't believe it was me.
"Hmm," people said. "That's your name?"
I suppose I've given the world a stump with these ethnic names and while my married name is easier to spell and say, I can't help but empathetically choose to go back to my roots where my sense of humor, neuroses and wicked ability to barter came from:
Being Lifshitz means I am going back to who I was, but this time, doing Laura Lifshitz a whole lot better. Lifshitz symbolizes my ancestry and blood. It represents my quirky traits, some of which my ex-husband and possibly his mother did not like. Okay, definitely his mother. Lifshitz is a sign of independence and strength. It's a funny last name and no one forgets it: like me.
My dad is the last Lifshitz in our family with the ability to pass on his name. I can't pass on his name, but I can pass on a legacy of sorts with my writing and comedy. In the virtual world, Lifshitz is out there and alive and attached to things I love very much: my acting and television past, my comedy, and my writing. In fact, I never wanted to change my last name and had posed hyphenating it, but for my traditional ex's sake who said he didn't want me to be anything but his last name, I changed it. A few weeks later after I returned from social security with my new identity he said to me, "Well I would let you hyphen it if you want."
A little too late, I sighed.
I did it for love but always, I felt more like a Lifshitz, and as if I could not fit up to his family's more traditional views, although he's also a mutt like me ( Cuban, German and Irish). I guess I felt like an imposter in my new name; it wasn't really me -- I was still connected to that awkward, naïve, bleeding-heart emotional girl called Laura Lifshitz who was voted funniest and most talkative of her eighth grade class. The crazy firecracker Laura Lifshitz of "Say What? Karaoke" from MTV.
Taking Lifshitz back means nothing spectacular to everyone else (besides my daughter one day perhaps) but yet it means everything to me. In more ways than one since our separation, I have fully committed to the passions that I loved before I met my ex. I have returned to the old Laura Lifshitz where I last left off. The difference? I am less vulnerable, stronger, more successful and more mature. Yet in many ways I am still vulnerable and still immature as I develop into this new person post-marriage.
A guy friend said to me, "Your married name is nicer. Lifshitz, well, it's just not a great last name. Sorry, kid."
But me? I love Lifshitz. It may be hideous to my friend, but it is a blessing that I am getting myself back better than ever.
To the beholder of my former married name, I truly loved you and I am glad I honored your request to be your Mrs., but I know you will find a new Mrs. Second Wife, so I will let her take on the torch and give you back your last name.