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This past winter, one of my sons sat nearly every night at the dining room table, hunched over the computer keyboard filling out college applications, lobbing random trivia questions my way ad nauseum. “Mom! What’s that place you were born called?”




From deep within the feathered belly of my bed, buried there with my book, I hollered out answers to him. (In this house the ‘master’ bedroom is directly adjacent to the dining room). “Now write that down so you have it for next time.”

“What’s dad’s social security number?”

Wearily I blurted out numbers yet again. “Ugh…write this stuff down!”

“What date did you graduate from college?”

“1992….Ilya Iskander! Please write this all down! Make one master sheet so you can refer to it!” (I called him by his Russian name now, to more vividly connote Great Displeasure. *Parenting tip 101 – give your children names that translate well to Russian for those times you need to yell WITH FORCE!)

“What’s your middle initial?”

“Are you serious?” My voice echoed round the snowy wilderness of my duvet, while I pictured the vast, white Russian tundra where this child’s ‘life knowledge treasure chest’ lay endlessly buried. “It’s L!”

On this night there was no response from the other side of the wall, No ‘Got it, Mom!’, no “Ok, I wrote that down,’ no ‘Aw, you’re the best, Mama Bear, for helping me with every single answer for the fifteenth time in a row!’, no nothing.

“Do you know what the L stands for?” I bellowed, writhing myself from my lair. This man-cub of mine probably did not know my middle name, though he’d lived with me for eighteen years and had already filled out five previous applications where this exact answer was required.

A lengthy pause followed before my bedroom door slowly squeaked ajar. The man-cub appeared, tipped backwards on two legs of the dining chair so that his ginger-maned profile tilted angelically heavenwards. “Do you know what the L stands for?” I repeated.

Slowly he turned his face towards me, revealing a mischievous smirk, before guessing:



As of this day Damon and I have been married for twenty three years. Huzzah! Twenty three! For such a happy occasion, it feels a bit sad to realize that we have no extra money to celebrate wildly this year; Damon has no time off from work; we are in the midst of moving yet again;  unbelievably, after twenty-three years, nothing much has improved or changed or settled regarding our life situation, except now we have five kids we’ve unwittingly dragged along to our never-ending gypsy bash.

Twenty three years ago we romantically left college hand-in-hand, to march forth into the universe with no plan, no careers, no car, no house, no savings, no idea what we were doing or where we were headed.

On our first year anniversary, after moving twice and still having no money, no careers, no plan, nor even a car, I felt little about our lives was ‘as it should be’, but obviously there was still time. Loads of time. No need to panic, things will click, whatevs!

In reality the two of us, at twenty-three years old, celebrated our first year of married life by walking out the door of our apartment to ride the Riverside public bus to the local library, where we each checked out two books. Then we rode home and ate macaroni and cheese from a box before remembering the top tier of our wedding cake buried in the back of the freezer. When Damon went to unearth it he discovered a frozen brown blob completely encased in icicles fused to the back of the freezer, like a relic from some ice-covered, cave-man wedding. With a pick axe he hacked our treasured delicacy from its tomb, whereupon we stared at it mournfully for a bit before dumping it in the trash.

I have no idea if we gave each other gifts on that first magical (ordinary) anniversary. If so, I sadly don’t remember what they were. But there was still plenty of time for nice gifts, fancy trips, romantic anniversaries. There’d be all of that and more somewhere in the future, certainly.


Twenty-three years later, it seems like time has maybe gotten away from us. We’re not doing much this year that’s more exciting than heading to the library. Still, at this point in our relationship I should offer the man who puts up with me day in and day out (!!!) a meaningful, memorable gift.

Weeks ago, like a weary Mama Bear, I retreated to my bed-cave to ‘have myself a little think’ (as Pooh Bear would say) and decide what to get my true love.

Whole days and weeks passed, yet no answer appeared. How was it that after two decades, I couldn’t think of anything this guy would enjoy, more than time away from me to practice his lip trills? (That’s a French horn thing, truly.)

The computer was no help. Google declared this our “silver plated” anniversary, but Damon didn’t care a whit about silver. Eventually, my thoughts morphed from, “Whatever would this man like?” to “Hmm….what would I like?”

Here, obviously, I found lots of answers.

Unfortunately every single item I deemed ‘wanted’ was rather expensive. Or terribly impractical for a family on the move. So instead I declared it, ‘Time for a little something!’, opened a new bottle of wine, had an even deeper think, and consolidated my options:

  1. ‘What gift costs little to no money? 
  2. Improves my marriage?
  3. Makes living with Damon more fun for the next year?’

Once simplified, an answer appeared right away: scratch Damon from the final sentence!

Yes, Damon! Because D-A-M-O-N is problematic. Shorten it, and you’re calling out ‘Dame’, the English (and German) word for ‘important matronly lady draped in pearls’. If you lengthen it, you’re shouting for Damien or Demion, which, eww…creepy.

What does that leave? Dee? Damey? Dumdum? DaMOAN? DaMONK? Damn? Damon has to go!

Could I change it around, spice it up, alter the whole thing into something I enjoyed saying more?

Well, Hello Dolly! I think I could! And how ideal…to gift Damon with A New Name! Happy Anniversary Honey! Damon! ________!

The idea seemed perfect – free, easy, a novel yet fun way to spice up our marriage. Yet if I nixed Damon, what to choose instead?

Almost immediately my heart leapt towards Winston. Winston! Say it aloud and you just feel your net worth increasing! The name sounds posh yet approachable, light and charming with an undertone of gravitas. If I were suddenly married to a man named Winston, my bank account would contain commas instead of question marks. We’d live in a home with ‘wings’. He’d speak with that scathingly intelligent British wit, wherein even off-color remarks would hang in the room like fine art (worth a closer inspection now and again). I could call my guy Win (positive), or Winnie (cute) or Wit (clever). Together we’d vacation ‘in the country’ and everywhere we traveled important people would ‘seek him out’. He’d be renowned for his verbal prowess in no less than five languages, yet still not take himself so seriously he couldn’t break into song in public places now and again. Swoon!

This was suddenly not just the perfect gift to give my husband, but also the perfect gift for me, too – Hello, Winston!

Over a glass of magical (ordinary) wine I told Damon Winston flat out that I didn’t want anything at all this year besides to call him ‘Winston’, in public, in private, everywhere in between! Also, could he speak with a British accent all the time, starting right now? Oh, please, please, please! It’d be the best anniversary gift ever.

And my guy, my Damon, my Winston, well…he tried. A valiant effort was made, on several occasions. Unfortunately his Winston sounded vaguely Australian but mostly inebriated and hard of hearing. (As a true Renaissance man in almost all areas, it never occurred to me that adopting a new persona, accent, attire, was not something my true love could do…sigh).

Now the day has arrived, our anniversary is here, and sadly I am not getting what I wanted. Winston, the dream, has died. Damon is certainly not getting what he wanted, either. (I have no idea what name he’d gift me with if he could…(Kate Upton)) Instead, he’s found himself hitched to ‘Lethargia’, eternally entombed in her cave-bed.


Last night, out of curiosity, I asked the kids what they thought Damon’s middle initial M stood for. Their answers were telling:

One quite certain Mikel

One overly confused Mordechai

One clever Most Happy

One bold Miraculous

and one astute Meriwether

We all laughed and made up new initial names for everyone in the family while we drank magical (ordinary) wine and toasted our health and ate Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon, and all in all felt pretty content. Turns out you don’t really need Winston or commas or even a fancy gift to simply be happy now and again.



After our family dinner I retreated back to the fluffy confines of my cave-bed where I read Thomas Jefferson’s reasoning regarding his choice of the famous Meriwether Lewis : “Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction,…honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves, with all these qualifications as if selected and implanted by nature in one body for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him…”

Who knew a name could be more fitting than even Winston? My Meriwether really is an intrepid explorer, leading this motley crew through the wilds. He is honest to a fault, liberal, disinterested, and genuinely Merry no matter the weather. He seems not bothered at all that his name(s) veer to the extremely feminine. He indeed possesses a firmness and perseverance of purpose which means that almost every day of our married lives I have listened to him practice lip trills ad infinitum. I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him….

If life is a journey, I am glad he is my guide.

And if life is nothing more than miseries to bear, I’m thankful he’s by my side.

Twenty three years is a long time to forge pathless through the wilderness. Yet here we are, Lethargia and Meriwether, still holding hands, seeking new lands.

Still together, one magical (ordinary) day at a time.

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