I still exchange Christmas cards with the parents of some of my best friends from high school: Dr. and Mrs. F and Mr. and Mrs. S. I could never call them by their first names, even if they invited me to, which they wouldn't. And my friends, no matter how old they were, traditionally called my parents Mr. and Mrs. D. This was so ingrained that even my very own husband, who could have called my parents by their first names after we got engaged, would not address them in any way for two years after we were married. (He relied on me to send Christmas cards and thank you notes addressed to "Mom and Dad.")
So what is the deal with our generation? I never really thought that it would be a big deal, but it is turning out to be really awkward for me:
- I am "Auntie Jules" to several close friends' children.
- I am "Mrs. Rules" to a few, more formal friends' children.
- I am "Jules" to most everyone else's children, except those who can't remember my name and call me "Duchess-mama" or something like that.
I thought I would start out by introducing people to my children as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so, but it is complicated. For one thing, I have frequently been pre-empted, e.g. a friend says to her child, "Can you thank Jules for her nice present?" Or they forget. Or, the friend will have a different last name than her sig other. Or they say, "I don't want to be Mrs. So and So, just call me [whatever]."*
All this makes me think of a story. One time when I was just out of college, I invited my former roommate, "Magda," to join my family at the shore. Magda asked me over lunch how she was supposed to address my parents, and I said that I didn't know, since most people just went ahead and called my parents Mr. & Mrs. I said you should probably call them whatever they ask you to call them. She replied with a lengthy soliloquy about how in the Quaker tradition, you call adults by their first names because they have to earn your respect, not automatically get it because they are older, etc.** Anyway, later that day, after we came in from the beach, my mother had left a note on the table:
Your office called.
Magda grabbed that paper with glee, waving it around in triumph. "Your mother wants me to call her by her first name!"*** I smiled, relieved that the subject was behind us.
"What's your dad's name?" Magda demanded. Here's where I had some fun. "Anthony. Be sure you call him Anthony because everyone except my grandmother calls him Tony and he hates that." She spent the rest of the weekend saying, "Anthony, please pass the salt," etc. My family still can't talk about it without cracking up.
**Or worse, sometimes I don't actually know the friend's last name. For example, I meet people through baby classes or community events and they say, "Hi, my name is Jen-Heather-Amy-Karen" and I never get their last name. This is why I have started to introduce myself as Jules Rules, because it is pretty weird, if you think about it.
**The Quaker thing was a surprise too, since to the extent that Magda ever revealed spirituality to me, I never heard anything about Quakers. Indeed, I had always thought she was Jewish. (Anyway, most Sunday mornings in college were spent recovering from Saturday nights).
***Turns out that mom wouldn't have cared either way, but thought it would be weird to sign the note as "Mrs."