There are as many differences between urban and suburban culture as there are varieties of each. Endless ways to experience city living, and many varieties of suburban culture, each with its own norms.
Around here, that norm includes calling adults Mr. and Mrs. I tell outsiders I live on Planet Mrs. I try to conform, to ask Robin to show his respect to adults by addressing them as they wish to be addressed. But for over a year now I have been thinking one thing. Wishing to yell it in all caps like a Mo Willems character:
PLEASE DON’T CALL ME MRS. KESTER.
It makes every cell in my body contract when I hear it. It makes me feel less like me.
1. My name is not Kester.
I am only Andrea Kester in Facebook, where I use this false name to hide from creepy old boyfriends and curious clients. This anonymity allows me to post political viewpoints with impunity and dodge potential employers’ searches. But I do realize it is genuinely confusing, especially for new friends and acquaintances.
When I hear Mrs. Kester, the first thing I think of is my mother-in-law, and I cringe. Not because my mother-in-law is disagreeable. To the contrary, she is a delightful woman so unmalicious, my sarcasm genuinely confuses. Rather, it reminds me of the days when I called her Mrs. Kester instead of Barb, when I was too bashful to ask if I could be less formal and she was too embarrassed to invite me to be.
I was Szyper for the first 30 years of my life and never considered changing it when I married. And to hyphenate a name like Szyper would be ridiculous, we can all agree on that. At our wedding I told my father-in-law that though I did not take the name, I was proud to be in his family. He smiled and told me he completely understood. Meanwhile his son liked to tell people “Andea is keeping her name and I am keeping mine.”
2. I am Ms. not Mrs.
I claim the right to separate my marital status from my identity, as men have been doing since the start of such things. He can be Mr. and I can be Ms. As you get to know us, our status will be revealed to you at our own discretion. Ms. is indeed more than a euphemism for Miss after all.
But at the same time, please do not feel threatened or judged. Understand that I completely respect and honor your wish to be called Mrs. just as I accept your choice to take your husband’s last name as your own. It is a fantastic choice, and I am so excited to live in a world where we have options as women, and where we can follow the path that feels right and natural for each of us.
We need to spend less energy feeling threatened and more energy supporting each other and honoring these choices. There are endless ways to be a woman today, and each deserves respect, even when it isn’t the way we would choose for ourselves. More than anything, we womenfolk have got to stick together and hold each other up.
3. I hate formality.
I bristle at the formality of titles in general. I know this makes us somewhat unique in all sorts of circles. I used to insist Robin call his preschool teachers Ms. Lorna and Ms. Drew. But parents in our old neighborhood went by Heather and Allen and Cheryl. (Still do!)
The Quakers are intrinsically anti-hierarchical, so it should come as no surprise that at Friends school students called their teachers by their first name only. Robin’s teachers included Kathie, Azizah, Lois, and Cornelia.
I never expected this to carry over to a mainstream public school. In that setting, the titles make sense. But what surprises me is when adults identify themselves to me as a Mrs. It creates confusion when Mrs. Smith calls from the school office and she is not Miss/Ms. Smith, Robin’s classroom teacher. Can’t we go by first names, at least among adults?
Poor Robin is confused. When we hang out with closer friends, grown ups are called by first names, but at the bus stop he must jump to the formal. And when I tell Robin’s neighborhood friends to call me Andrea, they say that their parents wouldn’t want them to. I insist Robin call their parents Mr. and Mrs. as they prefer, to show them respect. I get it.
But can I choose too?
How about calling me Ms. Andrea?
(If only I had the guts to just politely ask…)