When Alex and I learned we were expecting Sophie, we had decided to surprise ourselves with the baby's gender. This of course was an invitation to anyone with a penchant for predicting to guess what we were having. "You have a fifty-fifty chance of being right," I told one stranger at a party. She looked at me very carefully from all angles and distances, and then said with bits of food flying from her mouth, "I definitely think boy." This began a period of my life that seemed infinite, in which strangers felt comfortable sizing me up and then blurting out their answers based on scientific principles such as how "high" or "low" my belly was riding, or what kinds of foods I was craving. "Really, you only have two choices, people," I told a group of German tourists outside of a Moe's Bagels in Denver. By the end of my pregnancy, I had decided to bundle up in bulky clothing and claim that I was big-boned.
And then there was the "what are you naming it?" question. At first, it was a question I enjoyed answering. Who wouldn't want to share such a thing, I wondered, until I figured out that there are people in the world intent on making sure that you don't screw everything up by naming your kid something stupid, like Rose. "Rose?" Guffawed one woman, screwing up her face. "You can't name your baby Rose."
"It was my grandmother's name, and she was born during the late 1800s. If my great-grandmother was free to name a baby Rose before women could vote, I think I can probably do it now."
Rose was the name I had picked if we were having a girl. At least that's what I thought Alex and I had agreed to. As I found out two weeks before my due date, Alex thought I had been joking. "You can't name a baby Rose," he said.
"Actually," I said, searching the kitchen for something poisonous to put in his dinner, "I'm just big boned."
By the time I left work on maternity leave, I had stopped sharing names with people. It was too much; it was like asking for their permission, or advice, and I try never to do either of those. But mostly I had stopped sharing names after one of my co-workers asked me, "What are you going to name the baby if it's a hermaphrodite?"
Two weeks overdue, and overdone, we had a girl. Alex and I both agreed--amicably--on Sophie. We never spoke about the Rose debacle again.
Two weeks ago, Sophie and I were having one of our legendary talks about life. She was wondering if she and I could ever take a trip together, just the two of us. "Of course," I said. "We could be in Vegas in three hours from now." But she said she would rather go to New York City. Stay in a penthouse and take in a play. "It's too bad Winter Garden cut Cats," she said.
"Who are you?" I said, "And what have you done with my five-year-old?"
"And also, Mom?" she paused. "I want to change my name."
"OK," I said, "to what?"
"To Rose," she said. (I'll bet you saw that coming.)
"I love it," I said, feeling a little dizzy. We raised our cups of juice and made a toast to Roses everywhere. We didn't ask permission, we didn't ask forgiveness. We just took our Sharpies to the labels of her clothing and made it so.