I was born at precisely midnight. All the hands on the clock were pointed at 12:00 midnight, even the second-hand. There I was, all pink and new and ready to take on the world, but not before my mother had to pick my birthdate. “Call it,” the doctor said, “Pick her birthday. You can choose either the 19th or the 20th. She was born on the 19th, but we looked at the clock on the 20th. So it’s up to you.” It was a life changing moment for me. I could either be born on October 19th, or October 20th, and I didn’t get a single say in the matter. It was up to my mom. So, she picked the 20th and still calls me on the 19th to wish me a happy birthday. She obviously wasn’t too committed to the process. If they had left it up to me, I would have gotten two birthdays. Somehow, I still feel entitled to the one that got away.
Somewhere along the way, my parents had also forgotten the correct spelling of my name. I mean, come on! The date of my birth is understandable, because technically; I was born on the 19th. But, my name? On my birth certificate, it read T-O-N-I-A. I had no idea. Really, I didn’t have a single clue that my name was mispelled until somewhere around my twenty-third year when the social security administration wrote to tell me that I didn’t exist. “We have no record of you,” the note said, “You don’t exist in our database.” Really? There might have been a kinder way to put that.
Apparently, my kindergarten teacher, Miss Swihart, disagreed with the spelling of my name and started spelling it T-O-N-Y-A. She never really informed anyone that she disagreed; she just changed the spelling. Phonetically speaking, she was right about the way it should be spelled, but that’s not the point. It’s really the principal of the matter. Kindergarten teachers don’t have the express license to go around changing their student’s names. I, of course, had no idea how to write my name when I entered her classroom. My five-year-old self pretty much left that all up to her to teach me. Somewhere between learning the alphabet and how to ride a bus; I’m betting that’s when she changed my name.
This is how my parents tell the story anyway. They blamed the whole name change thing on some, poor Kindergarten teacher who had twenty other names to remember how to spell. For all I know, my own parents may have forgotten how they spelled it in the first place, and wrote it down wrong on my school registration papers. So, let’s blame it on teacher, for the sake of argument. Even if it was poor, Miss Swihart’s fault, don’t you think it’s even a tad bit strange that my parents never corrected her spelling along the way? In any case, before I got married, I had to alter the spelling of my first name back to how it reads on my birth certificate to T-O-N-I-A. I couldn’t get a marriage license until I proved who I really was, T-O-N-I-A, the little baby, all pink and new, born October 19th or 20th, 1969.
People always comment that my name has an interesting spelling. My response is always the same. “Yeah, well…my parents can’t spell, and neither could my kindergarten teacher, for that matter.” The first part is funny, the second part just loses whoever asks, I think.
If you grew up in the era of Bright Lights, Big City; click here for one of the most beautiful songs ever written with my name in it, Ice Cream Days by Jennifer Hall: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUFhMBIUFAA