What's a Wheatzie?

My family has always had a thing for goofy nicknames.  Which is good, I guess, seeing as how my parents gave us some pretty unimaginative first names.

I can picture the scene now:  My mom in the late 1970’s, heavily pregnant belly protruding as she sat on the scratchy brown couch (complete with a crocheted orange, green, and yellow afghan thrown over the back of it), tapping ciggie ashes onto the shag carpeting while risking a quick backward glance over her shoulder at my dad so as not to miss a second of her soap opera: “What are they calling little girls these days?”

And so that’s how I became Lisa Anne—the most popular name for girls in 1977. (As the saying goes now: Tell me you’re a 43-year-old woman without telling me you’re a 43-year-old woman.)

I complained to her about it once when I was a kid, but, ever the narcissist, she mistook my gripes as praise.

“Oh, you’re welcome,” she said benevolently.

“Welcome?”

“Yeah.  All the other little girls—like that silly Elvis’s daughter—are running around being called Lisa Marie.”  She shuddered as she spat the name out; THE HORROR. “I wanted to be different.  That’s why I named you Lisa Anne.”

“Mom…there are two other girls named Lisa Ann in my class.”  Which was quite a feat, considering I went to a small Catholic school in the country with a whopping 17 kids in my 8th grade graduating class.

“Yeah,” my mom said, the entire point sailing right over her chicken-casserole-making head, “that’s why I added the ‘e’ to Anne.”

OMG.

But my dad, with his dad-like creativity and dorkiness, came to the rescue and started calling me Wheatzie shortly after I was born.  Ah, Wheatzie.  A lifeboat floating in the ocean of my crazy upbringing.  He has called me that for as long as I can remember; the nickname appears in my earliest, haziest memories.

It’s a weird nickname, but honestly, it’s a lot better than the other nicknames later bestowed upon me at different points throughout my life:  Pinocchio (I have a big nose), Casper the Friendly Ghost (I’m pasty white), The Bearded Lady (I have a beard)…

Did I spell all of those correctly?  I can’t see through the tears that have suddenly started streaming down my face…and I didn’t even tell you what they called me in college.

Dad gave my older sister Vickie the nickname Chickets, and he used to ramble down the hallway when we were very young—in those glory years before the other three siblings were born—and wake us up for breakfast by throwing open our bedroom door and singsonging loudly, “Chi-ckets and Wheatz!  Chi-ckets and Wheatz!”  (Since becoming a mom myself, I often look back on this memory with complete confidence that I had to have gotten it wrong.  What normal parent wakes his sleeping children on a cheerful, sunny Saturday morning rather than using those precious hours to sleep off a hangover or have an extra cup of coffee or something?)

We would pull our covers over our heads and groan at him to let us sleep longer, but man!  What sweet memories those are. (<<A rare glimpse of sentimentality; my emotions throughout the years have become as hard as my mom’s liver did during what she refers back to as her “alcoholic phase.”  But don’t cry for me, Argentina.)

My younger brother was born three years after me and was given a nickname so ridiculous that he might kill me if I share it here—so I’ll save that for another time when I’m willing to risk it.

My little sister was born three years after that, and because she doesn’t scare me at all and because I’m kind of part of her nickname story, I’m going to go ahead and spill it.

The family story goes

When I was just a few months old, I came down with a nasty case of pneumonia.  In the hospital, the doctor told my mom and dad that there was a very large chance I would die.  We’re Catholic, so my parents prayed to God and begged Him to save my life and promised Him that if I lived, they would name their next little girl after both Mary and Joseph.

They kept that promise six years later when Mary Josephine was born.

A few years after Mary Jo’s birth, however, it dawned on my older sister Vickie that “Mary Josephine” sounded a heck of a lot like “Mary Roast-a-Weenie” which was later shortened to “Mary Roast-a-Ween,” and then “Roastie,” which at some point got further boiled down to what we ended up calling her for life:  ROAST.

Unlike Chickets and Wheatz, which my dad still calls us but only very occasionally, ROAST stuck. For the rest of time, all the time, in phone calls, text messages, and daily conversations, Mary Jo was—and still is—ROAST.

One time when we were telling the story of her name to a friend, Roast took a sip of her wine and kind of forgot herself for a moment, shouting, “I wish you would’ve died!” at me. (I THINK she was kidding…but you’d have to ask her.)  I mean, I don’t know what my premature death would’ve accomplished.  Had I died, thus releasing my parents from the Mary and Joseph agreement, Roast wouldn’t have gotten a much better name; maybe Sarah (“…with an ‘h’ because I wanted to be different!” my Mom would have insisted) or Heather or Jennifer or something just as boring and common.

My youngest brother, born 9 years after me, was given his nickname by yours truly.  Maybe I’ll share it in another post when he’s out of the country or something.

I’ve carried on the tradition. Both of my sons have nicknames so ridiculous that if I use them in public, they’ll skip several steps ahead of me, glancing around furtively to make sure no other living soul—much less one of their friends who might happen to be in the grocery store at the same time—has heard.  It’s not like I gave them their nicknames to embarrass them.  It’s just what came out naturally and stuck.  They’re total terms of endearment and I imagine—as long as we’re in the privacy of our own home and there are no classmates around to hear them—that my boys have the same warm, enveloped-by-love feeling hearing me chirp them as I did every time my silly dad called me Wheatzie growing up.

And hey, at least I didn’t stick my younger son with the nickname I gave him while he was in utero:  The Parasite.  I have two kids, but I only had to carry and give birth to one of them.  My husband and I were blessed with our older son through the absolute gift of adoption.

Listen, folks, I’m not saying pregnancy isn’t a blessing, too, because it so very much is.  It’s just that pregnancy didn’t agree with me AT ALL. It could have been because I had suffered a few miscarriages and was so scared that something would go wrong the entire 9 1/2  months I carried my younger son.  Whatever the case, I was not a pleasant pregnant person no matter how hard I tried.  So I just stopped trying to be.  Pretty early on, in fact.

A friend still likes to remind me of the time I walked into a playgroup about ten years ago, my older son 2 1/2 years old, me pregnant with my younger. 

“How’s it going, Lisa?” my friend asked me.

I shot her a look.  “Why would you even ask me that? Awful.  It’s going AWFUL. The Parasite is sucking my will to live. I’m OVER pregnancy.”

She looked puzzled.  “Aren’t you only like 14 weeks along?”

“YEAH,” I said angrily.  “Who decided to make women be pregnant for nine freaking months?

“Um…God?” she ventured.

“Well, when I die and go to Heaven, He and I are going to have a little talk.” I glanced skyward and raised my eyebrows threateningly. 

As if God and I hadn’t had several talks already.  It was my habit during my morning Rosary to thank Him profusely for my healthy 2-year-old and my so-far-so-good pregnancy and then, only seconds later, mentally scream at Him for making the women the child bearers instead of the men. (“I mean, what do guys even have to DO?!  You could have spread out the misery a little more evenly!”) God always handled my outbursts well. Usually after I had calmed down, I would blame pregnancy hormones and then remind Him with a shrug that He was the one who made me this way.

I turned away from my friend, but not before I heard another one of the moms murmur, “It’s going to be a loooooong 6 months” under her breath.  I caught her eye and took a big guzzle of my stupid decaffeinated coffee.  “SURE IS,” I agreed with one of those sarcastic pursed-lip faces where you raise your eyebrows and stick out your neck for emphasis.  Somehow this made me feel like I’d won.

Below:  Chickets, ROAST, and Wheatzie



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