Tall Thought 28: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski


"It’s A Man’s World."

When I got married (I am now divorced), I didn’t change my name. Not for any political or social stance, just out of pure laziness. I hate long lines and waiting and I feel like if I changed my name it would require me to do both, and that alone was a deterrent.

I guess there are a few other reasons I didn’t change my last name. When I introduce myself, I always get some sort of reaction. They either say, “Ah, a nice Irish girl” or they ask If I’m related to a Wisniewski that they have worked with once upon a time. Also: I’m kind of an asshole. Growing up as a kid, in an Irish Catholic community, I was teased incessantly about my last name. That ridicule has made me even more attached to it. I was born a Wisniewski and I will die a Wisniewski, I’ll attest.

Needless to say, my name is an icebreaker. The other option is hyphenating it, but why would I make an already long unpronounceable name even longer? So, I just leave it alone. What all of this means is that I don’t have the same last name as my daughter.

I recently took Stella, my 10-year-old daughter, on a trip overseas. We landed in London after a 12-hour delay and an overnight flight, so we were all a wee bit tired as we sluggishly walked over to the customs agent. His eyes started going back and forth, while looking at our passports, and then a look of concern rolled over his face. He asked me what the relation was between Stella and I. I replied, in a very matter of fact way, that she is my daughter. He quickly responded: “Well, you will have to show me her birth certificate.” I calmly stated that I didn’t have that document on me, as I didn’t know I would need it. I further explained that to procure a passport in the states for a minor, the father needs to be present. So, in my mind – we were good. Surprise! We were not good. He coldly followed with: “That doesn’t prove that this is your daughter.”

Now this may sound silly and naïve, but I never thought I’d ever have to prove such a thing. To me, it was like asking me prove that my arm was actually my arm. Apparently my story was not good enough. He separated us – and I immediately turned into Meryl Streep from Sophie’s Choice. The customs agents started asking Stella a series of questions to investigate if I was in fact a child trafficker, or not.

In the end, they released us. But, for the rest of the trip I couldn’t shake that very real feeling of vulnerability. The truth is: I couldn’t legally prove Stella was my daughter. For all the English government knows: I could be selling Stella.

Like most American women, I take my freedom for granted. I sit in judgment of other country’s laws that I feel might restrict a woman’s power. In that moment I realized, when we touched down in merry ole’ England, that there are still patriarchal rules that linger in our western world. They may not be obvious in our everyday life, but once in a while, they’ll throw a bucket of cold water over your head and leave you feeling like you’re wearing a burka.