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alec vanderboom

I spent the feast day of our beloved St. John of the Cross waiting for 2 1/2 hours in line at the Rockville Social Security Office with a 4 year old, a 3 year old and 6 month old. It actually wasn’t a bad way to spend a feast day. I’d printed out my SSA form, neatly gathered my plethora of identification types, and packed a picnic lunch to share with Daddy at his office. “You’re going to the Social Security Office with the kids!” my husband exclaimed.

“It’s only open Monday through Friday 9 AM to 4 PM, what else am I supposed to do? We’ll be fine.” I optimistically thought my foresight in packing two Spiderman water bottles would carry day. After all, they must have some sort of “speed window” for people with quick form processing requests, right?

Instead, it was yet another lesson that we do not live in sweet Madison, Wisconsin anymore. Oh how lucky I am to have a husband who prays for me!

I showed up at our suburban SSA center and it was like entering the portals of Ellis Island. At least ninety people were in the waiting area, thirty with numbers higher than the one listed on my ticket. During the next two and half hours, my kids made three sets of sibling friends whose parents hailed from countries I couldn’t guess. Their languages were sounds I’d never heard before.

Even though we couldn’t understand each other, we each spoke fluent “parentese”. The aunt, I’m guessing was from Armenia, was startled that my 3 year old ran out the office door & onto the sidewalk before I had a chance to catch him. (I was sitting a row behind Alex talking to blind SSA recipient and couldn’t get myself past him & the family who also didn’t understand English & so missed my urgent “Excuse me, EXCUSE ME” as I frantically attempted to reach my son). Alex’s escapade at 105 minutes into the session officially labeled me “as a woman who has her hands full” in several different languages. From that moment on, I had nothing but help. An Armenian boy shared his wind-up beetle. A stranger offered to rock the baby’s car seat. Hannah sat quietly in her seat. All so that I could hold a squirming three year old on my hip while talking to the harried man at the SSA staff member so that I could change my last name!

After 6 1/2 years of marriage, I finally took my husband's last name as my own. I'd converted to his religion. I'd born him three children. The new name thing, however? It was a long time coming.

I was one of those girls who had a lot of angst about the whole dropping your name once you were married. The receiving mail addressed as Mrs. Jon W. Benjamin freaked me out. (The attorneys I clerked for in Madison, both did groundbreaking legal work to insure that women had the right to retain their maiden name after their marriage. I did far too much thinking about this issue months before meeting my husband.)

After much flip-flopping, Jon & I decided to go the hyphen route. I kept my maiden name on my driver’s license and attorney license, but was “Benjamin-Rupp” everywhere else for a whole year. (Poor Jon’s master’s thesis is still titled under that name). After a year, while we were coming up with names for Hannah, we both confessed that we hated the hyphen. I could never remember if the photos at Walgreens were filed under “B” or “R.” Since my husband’s last name is a common first name, he was always being called “Mr. Rupp” during business meetings. We couldn’t imagine saddling our kids with that messy conglomerate of a name. So we happily decided that we’d give Hannah her Daddy’s last name and both go back to our respective original names.

When I was practicing law, I enjoyed having dual identities as “Attorney Rupp” & “Mama Benjamin.” I found it comforting after harrowing domestic violence restraining order hearings that an angry husband couldn’t easily find the home phone number of his wife’s attorney. My legal name at the end of court documents matched the name on the diplomas on the wall. It all seemed comfortable and reassuringly progressive.

By year three of stay-at-home motherhood, it’s all gotten rather ridiculous. I’m the mother of the Benjamin kids, but my contact sheet at Mother’s Rosary Group says “Abby Rupp.” The attorney registration box is marked “retired” in all three states that hold my bar. The last straw occured at Maria's six month check-up. A nurse got all confused because my daughter’s medical file has the name on her birth certificate, Maria Benjamin, but her insurance card, which was given at birth says “Baby Rupp”, I got tired of all the necessary explanations. Suddenly, holding onto my maiden name didn’t seem so hip & progressive anymore. It seemed weird, and distant and unneccessarily complicated.

I want to share the same last name as my children and my husband, because we all belong to each other. I love my husband & we conceived these children out of that love. Hopefully, I’ll be back in the hospital delivery room same day. This time my bracelet with say “Mama Benjamin” and Jon’s bracelet will say “Daddy Benjamin.” The Siblings visiting name tags will read “Benjamin”. A newborn bracelet with the triple sealed alarm tag that still manages to regularly fall off from a thin ankle without triggering the tamper-proof hospital alarm will read “Baby Benjamin.” On that day, the fact that I traded a familar childhood name for a beloved adulthood name won’t seem hard. It will seem just right