But at Dutch immigration, things took an unforeseen turn. Married to an Aussie as I am, I am used to his being sized up suspiciously at immigration. He was once nearly sent back to Australia as we stood there, whey-faced, at the London border control, after the twenty-four-hour flight from Brisbane, because he hadn't transferred his right to remain stamp into his renewed passport. I am used to cracking hilarious jokes about his being 'from the colonies', and he's used to grinning and bearing my frivolity. So when the Dutch immigration officer looked suspiciously at my husband's documents, I blithely explained to the officer, in my somewhat shaky Dutch, that we were on holiday, and he went off to get yet another stamp for hubby's passport.
How my face changed when the officer returned, leant into the car (blonde man bun and all), and asked if I was the mother of the two children in the back seat.
My first reaction was to laugh out loud. I was about to inform him that they were indeed mine but he was welcome to them, hahahaha – when I realised that he was being absolutely serious. His next question was, "Can you prove that you're their mother? You don't have the same surname as your husband. Have you got a marriage certificate, or a birth certificate for them?"
My mouth opened and shut. Images of giving birth, broken nights, endless school runs, countless meals, practising times tables, perpetually-renewed attempts to help with homework, return notes to school, buy clothes, put on birthday parties, attend shows, try and find childcare, arrange playdates, etc etc flooded my brain. I did not know what to say. I was sitting in our car, with my husband, and our two, biological, children, who look like both of us; children I – we – have spent the last fifteen years looking after, and I had no way to prove that they were legally linked to me.
Suddenly it occurred to me that what the passport man was suspicious of was my Dutch name, encased in its British passport, and different from the rest of my family. And that the magic key to proving my maternity might be encrypted in this modern oddity.
Many years before, in some attempt to honour my father, I had insisted on giving both our kids his surname as their third name, which meant that my surname matched a name embedded in theirs. I babbled in my poor Dutch at the officer, and he slowly scrutinised their passports. To my intense relief, Man Bun waved us through into tolerant, welcoming Holland.
As we drove on, the enormity of what had happened buzzed round my head.
When our daughter was born, we were not married. The only way my partner could be recognised as the father was by turning up to the registration of our baby's birth. I was the one who named her, and gave her my partner's surname. I didn't need to, she could have had mine. If you're out of wedlock, it's the mother who has all the rights. To compensate for our sinful state, we gave her my partner's name as a surname, and my father's as a middle name. But, without understanding the consequences, and thinking we were having a Beautiful Moment, we entered both names on the surname line of the birth certificate, intending only to use my partner's day to day.
To our astonishment, our Beautiful Moment immediately turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. Far from casually being able to call our daughter what we wanted, the name printed on her birth certificate was needed in every official situation, which meant laboriously trotting out an unintentionally double-barrelled surname, featuring no fewer than nineteen letters and a combined total of 5 As. Having 5 As to her name made her sound like her own GCSE certificate. We were once questioned about her identity in Adelaide, when a plane ticket featuring only one surname was deemed not to match her passport, thereby nullifying her identity.
We eventually had to change our daughter's name, by deed poll, which involved putting WASSENAAR into lower case letters, so that it fell off the surname line into middle name territory.
I found it unsettling when our little girl entered childcare settings, and there was always a hesitation about the fact that she had one name and I had another – I was forever explaining that we weren't married, and finding myself apologising. The ghost of some kind of middle class shame haunted these conversations.
Finally, when we moved to Australia, and my partner headed off first, to start his job and find accommodation for us, I decided it would be better if we bit the bullet and married, to avoid any hesitation at border control when I flew over with our little girl two months later. But I still didn't change my own name – I really didn't see why I had to. After all, no one was asking my husband to, and I had all the effort of the Aussie visa to apply for, which took six weeks of near full-time bureaucratic self-justification to pull together. And I used to joke that I didn't really have a name at all, since the name I wasn't changing was my father's.
Yet, despite all our efforts to keep up with what the State wanted, we still couldn't, in peacetime, with completely up to date and proper documentation, travelling as a family, prevent an officious passport officer from forcing me to find a way to prove that I was the mother of my own children.
When my mother and father moved to the UK in 1974, my Dutch father applied to naturalise as British. Having lived under Nazi occupation in wartime Holland, he was afraid of what might happen if there were ever a war again – he did not want to run the risk that the family might be split up, as his brother's had been, put into Japanese prisoner of war camps in Japan and Indonesia. Because of his naturalisation, my brother and I had to give up our Dutch passports and become British. For the rest of my life, I will look Dutch and have a Dutch name, but be British.
In our post-Brexit world, uncertain of how relations stand between neighbouring countries, I realised all over again, held up on the Anglo-Dutch border, that our names do not identify us. Instead they mark us out as strangers.
We have half-dismantled patriarchy, and half-understood globalisation. I discovered all over again on the cold Dutch quayside that, whatever my identity 'is', it stands shivering at an intersection between those ideologies. My fate is forever to be an ex-pat.