Storytime: What’s in a Name Part 2

I mentioned in my last post that not only is the “last name that’s not actually even my last name” often pronounced incorrectly, so is my first name. It’s understandable, I suppose, that when your name is unusual and one letter different from a much more popular name, people might assume that your name is, in fact, the popular name. 

So many people do call me Brenda, but some come up with other things that apparently seem more correct than my actual name, like Breanna or, and this one I think is particularly interesting, Glenna. I had a junior high homeroom teacher who called me Breena all year as well. I’ve never met a Breena.

Just to be clear, Brenna isn’t pronounced in a particularly complicated way. It’s just Brenda without the D. BREH-na. Not at all fancy.

Generally, I use the same pattern to politely correct phone callers who say my name incorrectly. They say, “Hi, is this Brenda?” and I say, “Yes, this is Brenna,” and then they apologize and we continue our conversation. But sometimes people seem to feel like they know my name better than I do.

Please meet Jaime, a customer service person who called me regarding a service I was interested in. 

Phone rings

Me: Hello?

Jaime: Hello is this Breanna? I’m Jaime from Porch.

Me: Yes, this is Brenna.

Jaime: Great, is this a good time to talk, Breanna?

And so it went on for the entire conversation. Jaime seemed to be the sort of person that drops your name into the conversation a lot and it was wrong every time. 

Finally, we got to the part where she needed my email address in order to send me a quote. I figured that this would be the golden moment where she would figure it out. 

Me: It’s my name, so that’s Brenna Fender, B-R-E-N-N-A….

I got done spelling it all out and she repeated it back.

Here it comes, I thought.

Jaime: Okay Breanna, great, I’ll get that quote right out to you. And I’ll call you back tomorrow when you have more time so we can discuss the rest of the issues. Will 12:30 work?

Me: Yes, that’s fine. Thank you.


When 12:30 rolled around the next day, the phone rang and once again it was Jaime, and sure enough, she called me Breanna. We talked for a moment and then she wanted to put me through to Alex who would give me another quote. 

We stayed on the line together, and then when Alex answered, Jaime said, “Hi Alex. This is Breanna. Breanna, thank you for talking to me today and let me know if you need anything else.” And then she hung up.

And you know what Alex said?

Alex: Hi Breanna. Let me ask you a few questions so I can get you that quote.

So I just went ahead and laid it out there.

Me: Hi Alex. Actually, my name is BREH-NNA, not BRE-AAH-NNA. I told Jaime that several times but I finally gave up.

Alex laughed pretty hard. When he finished he said:

Alex: Okay, Brahnna, let me ask you those questions.


But Alex had an accent and I thought, okay, maybe that’s his best approximation. So we had our whole conversation and we got to the email-address-send-a-quote part. 

Me: It’s my name, so that’s Brenna Fender, B-R-E-N-N-A…

I finished it and before he said it back he said, “Oh. BREHNNA….”

And then we wrapped things up and I needed a nap.


Storytime: What’s in a Name? Part 1

You may have noticed that my name – Brenna – is kind of unusual. If you google “Brenna Fender,” you’ll mostly find stuff about me, although there is another woman named Brenna who married into the name Fender, which I find kind of irritating. It seems as though she’s a beauty consultant at Dress Barn, which is so far away from who I am that it’s actually pretty hilarious. I’m a little embarrassed for her. I mean, if people get mostly my stuff and think it’s hers, they are going to think she’s a TERRIBLE beauty consultant. Honestly, I’m surprised she hasn’t messaged me yet to offer me free consulting just to boost her image.

Probably she should get another name. I’m just saying. “Brenna Fender” is MINE.

Anyway, because my first name is BrenNa and my last name is FenDer, people sometimes swap the letters and call me Brenda Fenner. I get that. It makes sense. And really a lot of people just call me Brenda even without seeing my last name. “Brenda” is a much more common name, so they just assume it’s a typo, I guess. You know, in my email address and signature and such. 

So, to make my life a little more interesting, I married someone whose last name is easy to say, as long as you aren’t looking at it. If you read it and then say it the way it appears to be spelled using English phonetics, you’ll be very wrong.

Now, I didn’t change my last name when I got married. I’m still Brenna Fender. My children both have my husband’s last name. I’ve encouraged them to politely correct people who say their names wrong, and I’ve written their last name phonetically for people who needed to read it aloud probably 100 times, even having in-person discussions with announcers at events who need to say it over PA systems. Even with that discussion, odds are good that it will be said wrong, but I try. I’ve been an event announcer before and I know it’s a really hard job to do, so I get it. But I feel like your name is an important part of you, and saying it correctly is just a respectful thing to do.

That said, people call me Mrs. Mispronounced Name a lot of the time. We’re more than a quarter of a century past when I made the choice to keep my name rather than take my husband’s, but many of my kids’ doctor’s offices and similar places assume otherwise. This occurs even when I’ve handed them my credit card WITH MY NAME ON IT 100 times. 

I’m not particularly bothered by being called Mrs. Mispronounced Name, but the problem is when it’s being said by someone who will also be addressing my kids. Do I correct the pronunciation on behalf of my children? But then it’s like I’m agreeing to that being my name, which it isn’t. So really I need to say something like, “It’s pronounced this way, but I actually go by Ms. Fender” which will probably raise eyebrows and create questions and whatnot and I’m generally not feeling like stirring up a whole discussion of REASONS when I just want to make my co-pay.

Due to my reluctance to speak up like a damn grown-up, I’ve wound up in a situation where a receptionist has called me Mrs. Mispronounced Name FOR YEARS. I have literally seen her nearly once a week for probably 5 years now and she’s said it wrong every time. If I’d just sucked it up and fixed the whole thing at the beginning, there would be no issue, but I can tell you that the statute of limitations on correcting my name with her has definitely run the hell out. It’s gotten to the point where I feel kind of sheepish every time she greets me or calls me over to pay (with the credit card with my name on it, but I digress). But I’m stuck.

Now every appointment is Telehealth and at first, she was sometimes calling me to take my payment prior to the appointment, but mostly someone else called (who also called me by the wrong name but that’s not the story here). And now I’ve reached my out of pocket deductible (yay?) so nobody calls me anymore. Perfect.

Except last week, we saw someone else in the practice for another issue, and we needed to make a follow-up appointment. The receptionist called me to set it up. Imagine my surprise when I answered the phone and that familiar voice said, “Brenda? It’s [redacted] from Dr. [redacted]’s* office. I’m calling to make that follow-up appointment you need.”

She called me by my first name. That’s never happened. And SHE MISPRONOUNCED IT. And guess what? I was so damn shocked I didn’t correct her. 


Maybe we need a new doctor. 

*Redacted because I actually still want to be able to make appointments in the future.

The Aftermath

“I guess being unconscious during the entirety of a near-death experience has its benefits. So does being 10, I suppose. But I was very much conscious. And I am not 10.”

I wrote “When Great Swimmers Drown” with the idea of sharing our story, and some of how I felt about it, with my friends and with organizations that had requested some quotes about the accident. I never expected it to spread beyond this blog, but it did: to the Today Show’s parenting community, to Red Crosses all over the US, to YMCAs, to swim coaches’ associations, to radio stations, and it was even translated into Polish for coaches of various water sports. Over 300,000 people have read the story on this blog and the Today Show’s site – who knows how many else have viewed it through other channels. It’s been interesting, and even a little bit scary, to watch something I created spin out of control into a life of its own.

It’s been nice to know that sharing what happened to us might help keep a tragedy from happening to others. And helping others was a great tool to focus myself on the experience in a way that wasn’t too upsetting. A sense of purpose kept me from looking inward too much. It was a good thing.

Time is passing, and my daughter seems no worse for the wear. I guess being unconscious during the entirety of a near-death experience has its benefits. So does being 10, I suppose.

But I was very much conscious. And I am not 10.

The first night in the pediatric ICU, I rested in bed curled around her feet, because the head of the bed was occupied with tubes and cords and a child who tossed about in discomfort. I didn’t really sleep at all, what with the cramped space and the nurses’ visits and the horrible images I knew were just behind my eyelids. In fact, I wondered if I would ever sleep again, knowing the dreams that would surely haunt me.

So for hours I cuddled my daughter’s feet and wondered just when they had gotten so big, like real kid’s, instead of the chubby, Fred Flintstone feet of a preschooler. I touched her soft skin and smiled at her crazy swimsuit tan lines every time I helped her to the bathroom.

So close I had come to never touching her again. Just a breath away, really.

That very same day it was reported that several people, some of them young, were killed at a concert in England. I did not read articles about it or watch the news stories. I cannot research it now to add facts or figures to this story, because there is only a breath between those poor, grieving parents and me. I had glimpsed, just for a second, what it was to be them, and it nearly breaks me to think about.

A week or so after the accident, my daughter was still receiving visitors. She was somewhat over all the attention, but very polite to the kind people who needed to see her for themselves to feel peace and closure. One of those visitors said, “Everything happens for a reason….”

And I thought, but didn’t say, “No, it doesn’t.” Because as much as I believe my own child to be Special with a capital S, those other parents, the ones who lost their daughters on the day I nearly lost mine, they believed the same. They still do, I’m sure, as they grieve their unbelievable, unbearable loss.  Don’t try to make sense of our great fortune in the face of near-tragedy. It makes you feel better, I know, to think that there’s some protection that covers you and those you love from disaster, some reason. But thinking that my daughter’s survival is part of something bigger demeans the lives of others that were lost. Don’t do that, please. It hurts my heart.

Now that the bustle of the medical issues is largely over, and my daughter and I are back from her exciting experience at the synchronized swimming Junior Olympics, in the still moments, I can feel it. That dreadful, blackhole-ish feeling that swirls through my stomach, with the whispers of what may have been, what would have been, with just a few moments more. Will those hauntings end? I don’t know. How could they, really?

It’s funny how near-tragedies can be. Before, if I read a news story in which someone escaped from disaster alive and relatively unharmed, I thought, “Ah, a happy ending.” But it turns out that there’s no real ending. And while we are certainly quite happy with our daughter’s survival and good health, what would be really, really happy would be the chance to turn back time and not have the accident happen in the first place. To “unknow.” To be the person who thought, at least on the surface, that she could keep her child relatively safe from the dangers of life through education and supervision and those sugar-coated gummy vitamins.

I’m not that person anymore.

I miss her, to be honest.

I’m doing okay, this new me-person that I am, with most things. I let my daughter and son take a Pokemon Go walk around the block together with only the usual warnings about not staring at the screen while crossing the street and whatnot. But still, there’s a differentness there. The waves of stomach pain, the sharp stabs of empathy for grieving parents, the brief moments of absolute fear that, though I escaped their ranks this time, sometime in the future, I could join them still.

There are no guarantees. There’s no super strength protection packaged in those gummy vitamins.

This control we think we have over our lives, it’s all a ruse. And while we all know it, really, we don’t know it. We don’t feel it through the walls. We don’t see it through the cracks. Except, now I do.

Usually I have a takeaway in my writings, a clever summary, a nifty moral, a word of advice. But I’m not sure that I do here. I just know that life is even more complicated than I ever thought, and that many of us traverse it at times in a state of rawness, tender to the touch. I guess the best hope is that the wounds scar over with time, leaving us without the fresh sting of experience and instead with just that tight, uncomfortable, pulling feeling of thickened skin; a reminder that there is so much more to us, and to life, than we see on the surface.


At the 2017 Synchronized Swimming Junior Olympics in Riverside, California, in July.

When Great Swimmers Drown

My 10-year-old daughter is a Junior Olympic level synchronized swimmer. She’s been an accomplished swimmer since she was a toddler. So, of all the things I have worried about as her mother, drowning was not one.

But on May 22, 2017, that is exactly what happened.

At a regular synchronized swimming practice at the New Tampa YMCA, she did several laps with very few breaths in a row. She then attempted a 50 meter “zero under,” trying to swim the distance without taking a breath. She says that she felt great, and she remembers seeing the wall before thinking, “I should take a breath, but I’m almost there, I can do it!” And she did do it, but she blacked out before breathing, and sank to the bottom of the pool.

This phenomenon is called “shallow water blackout,” and it occurs often with experienced swimmers during breath-holding exercises or times in which they enter the water after “hyperventilating” (breathing rapidly and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the body to abnormally low levels, which can interfere with the brain’s signals to the body to take a breath). It happens to free divers, to children having breath-holding contests, and, especially, to competitive swimmers in training.

Drowning in general is quiet and much harder to detect than movies and television would have you believe. Victims have no energy for thrashing and screaming. Those who suffer from shallow water blackout are silent, and they don’t even realize what is happening. “I can do it!” they think, riding a wave of euphoria that is, instead, their brain shutting down from lack of oxygen.

Seconds before my daughter dropped to the bottom of the pool, an attentive YMCA lifeguard noticed that my daughter’s legs were moving oddly as she approached the wall at the end of her “under.” As she surfaced and then sank, the lifeguard sprang into action, signalling the three other lifeguards on duty to move into their well-rehearsed emergency procedures. By the time the lifeguard had lifted my daughter to the surface, unconscious and not breathing, another lifeguard was ready to pull her out and begin CPR. Other lifeguards brought the AED, cleared the pool, contacted authorities, and performed other tasks. They worked together efficiently and effectively, and my daughter was breathing, conscious, and able to speak by the time paramedics arrived.

Their actions, completed with confidence and without hesitation, saved my daughter, no question. Research says that shallow water blackout victims only have about 2.5 minutes to be resuscitated before they suffer brain damage or death. My daughter is fine and back in the pool, once again training for the Junior Olympics and prepared to continue her lifelong “straight A student” streak in the fall. I am grateful for the quick-acting lifeguards and for the YMCA’s emphasis on training and safety.

As a parent, getting the news that your child is gravely (and perhaps mortally) injured is life altering. I had no idea what it meant to be truly terrified. I never even realized that I didn’t know what true fear was. The altered consciousness, the limited focus, the way, hours later, I realized that I still couldn’t breathe properly, and that I’d hurt muscles and scraped my feet and never even processed those things because the part of my heart that lives in my daughter was nearly broken beyond repair.

Running out to the pool and finding it silent, with onlookers frozen against the fence while a small group huddled together over a figure that I knew was my child was an experience I’ll never forget, and I surely don’t want to live through again. I learned so many lessons, some of which I’ll share over time, and some of which I’d like to forget and to spare any other person from experiencing. My heart breaks for parents who have had similar experiences, some of which ended tragically. I have peered through the crack into your world and I’m so very, very sorry for your loss. I know now that I cannot truly understand how you feel, some pain far beyond what I could ever imagine, and I ache for you.

If our experience can save others from tragedy, I’d like to share it far and wide. Don’t take water safety for granted. Please learn more about drowning in general and shallow water blackout in specific (visit for more information). And please don’t take your children for granted either. They can be gone in the time it takes you to take a shower at the YMCA.20170531_130143

At a thank you luncheon for the lifeguards a week and a half after the accident.


*Lifeguards names/photos were not shared because three out of the four are minors.

Brenna Fender is a freelance writer who can be reached at, or via Facebook .

Mourning George Michael

This is supposed to be a work blog, but this is a non-work entry. Sometimes you have to write what you feel.

George Michael died on Christmas Day. My Facebook is full of messages from people my age mourning the loss of their teen idol.

I get that. Speaking as a teen of the 80s, I had 200 photos of George tacked to my bedroom walls. That’s an actual number; I counted when I took them all down to redo the wallpaper. God bless my parents for tolerating that many tack holes in the walls.

Aside from posters and photos, I owned professionally produced videos (Wham! in China, anyone?) and stacks of VHS tapes full of interviews and TV performances that I recorded from MTV and other shows. If George was on TV, I recorded it. I owned every album, 45, B-side, and rare-whatever I could get my hands on, including an autographed LP I won in some contest. I also owned a several-inch thick notebook full of articles I’d cut from the pages of Tiger Beat and other fan magazines. These articles were alphabetized by title. I’m not kidding.

I’d made friends who also were obsessed with George, although there’s a chance that my enthusiasm swept some of them along a little. If so, they were good sports about it. We went so far as to hold at least one birthday party for George in which we ate hot fudge sundaes and played trivia games we’d created based on songs and videos (“What color is the wallpaper in the living room of the Bad Boys video?”). Even back then I knew I was over-the-top. I told people that being obsessed with George Michael kept me out of trouble. Precocious, but true.

But, like most woo-girls of the 80s, by the time George’s presence in America’s music scene faded (post-Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, which is still today a truly excellent, relevant album), my interest in him was reduced to an appreciation of his previous music. I didn’t follow his career once it became harder to do so, and by the time the internet really got rolling, it didn’t occur to me to peek in on what he was up to.

And then some years ago I learned about Spotify and on a whim I looked up George, thinking I’d catch a listen to Make it Big. What I found was a lot of interesting music that I’d missed. I binge-listened, fascinated by the chance to hear his talent morph and develop as he matured. I didn’t love everything that he had done but I could really appreciate it for the impressive body of work that it was. I realized what a truly talented, amazing musician he was, something I hadn’t understood and appreciated long ago when I was mostly interested in his boyish good looks and lovely voice.

I started checking out recordings of live performances on youtube and encountered many interviews with George covering the parts of his career that I had missed. I listened to them while I worked, eventually literally listening to every George Michael interview I could find on youtube. I know that sounds ridiculous but I’m pretty sure I actually listened to (if not watched) every. George Michael. interview. on. Youtube.

And you know what? I fell in love with him all over again.

Not in the same way, of course. I no longer expected that he would run into me in an aisle at Publix and sweep me off my feet. (Yes, I know there are problems with that fantasy. Don’t point them out.)

But, seriously, I realized that George was a pretty amazing human being outside of his abilities as a musician. He was extremely intelligent, but also humble and with a great, self-deprecating sense of humor. He seemed to own up to his struggles and mistakes, and he talked openly about crippling depression and loss. I discovered that George quietly donated large amounts of money to various charities on a regular basis (and supported charities with his time and donated music as well).

He invested years, money, and effort in a losing legal battle with Sony in an attempt to stand up for his rights and those of other artists. It nearly killed his career in the US, but he thought it was important, not only for himself but for others. He went to bat for what he believed in, making political statements that mattered to him even when he was told it would hurt his record sales (and it did, for a time).

I never heard of George throwing shade at another musician, or starting a twitter war (he called his followers “my lovelies,” by the way, like we were all a part of his extended family). I’m sure there were conflicts with others, who doesn’t have those? But he certainly wasn’t dramatic about it, and the fact that you never heard celebrities saying bad things about him either speaks volumes as well.

George loved his dogs dearly, and he was recently involved in a movement to change dog resale laws in the UK. All that money and fame and he still spent a lot of time in the company of his yellow Labs.

He was open but private, good but flawed, brilliant but capable of stupid mistakes. He was strong enough to admit those mistakes and weather the consequences, but perhaps not quite strong enough to avoid making the same mistakes again.

George Michael may have been your teen idol, but he’d become an amazing person as well, one worth appreciating as an adult. So while with George’s death we say goodbye to our youth, our dreams, and our fantasies, we should also say goodbye to the kind of person that the world needs more of. Someone who had a lot more to give, and who is gone far too soon.

Goodbye, George. We will miss you.

A Few Things

I have a few things out on the web that are new. One is for pet dog owners called “Things You Don’t Know About Dog Training.” It seems to be well-received, which is nice.

I also edited together my first promo that did not have a script, which was harder than I thought it would be: June 2016 Clean Run Magazine Promo

Last week, I held a Facebook party. That was my second one and I had a lot of fun with it. The people who attended seemed to have fun too. There will be more of those in the future 🙂


May Clean Run Magazine Promo

My video editing skills are improving! I made this month’s Clean Run magazine promo video in about 30% less time than it took to make last month’s promo. There was also about 85% less swearing, so, really, it was a HUGE improvement! I figured out some tricks this time that will save me a lot of work next time. I’m enjoying having the opportunity to stretch my skills a bit.

You can check the video out here.  Next month’s video will be even better, I am sure!

Social Media Stuff=Work AND Fun

Today as part of my work I got to share some new toys with my dogs (Lotus balls, as well as record a little intro to what will be the May promo video for Clean Run magazine. 2016-03-28 11.22.23

Tessa trying out the Lotus Ball.

Filming for Clean Run is always a challenge for me. My equipment is primitive and the only place I can film that is bright enough and that has a place to put up a backdrop thingo is the floor of my kitchen. There’s a lot of grunting I have to edit out as I get up and down to check out the camera. So sexy.

Today I only shot a brief intro, so it wasn’t too painful. No cue cards necessary. There may have been a Chihuahua in my lap at points, but you can’t see him so he doesn’t exist. I’m a complete professional. 🙂

In other writery news, a brief article I wrote for a blog about misconceptions of dog training is being picked up by the Pet Professional Guild for their blog. I’ll let you know when that goes online. I’m sure you are all holding your breath about that 🙂

Finally, I’ve written the first draft of a new flash fiction story. It’s interesting how my fiction writing process is changing. My first two stories ended up very similar to their first drafts. I made a lot of changes through the drafts but the basics of the stories stayed true. My third one morphed A LOT through the several months between its creation and completion. I chopped off the beginning of the story, starting in the middle, and flipped my ending from a happy one to one that is… less than happy. It’s a much better story now but I’m telling you, there were parts where I almost threw in the towel on that one.

I suspect this new story, tentatively titled “Love Knots,” will be the same. I just kind of threw the ideas on the page (screen?) and I plan on some major rewriting. It’s kind of interesting to work this way. Very different from the way I write nonfiction.

I’m starting to get anxious to hear how my stories did in the last Women on Writing contest. Waiting is hard!


In Progress

Currently I am up to my eyeballs in writing assignments for Clean Run magazine. I’m working on my first in a series of four articles on flooring for agility facilities. This is my third take on this topic over the years. I can’t say that I enjoy writing these articles AT ALL but they are useful and people ask us about the topic a lot so they need to be done. It’s kind of like eating salad. With no dressing. And it’s just mostly watery lettuce.  Not the green parts of the lettuce either, the hard, white parts that you probably should throw away. But you didn’t because you were lazy.

Fortunately this month I also got to have a hot fudge sundae; I wrote the editorial for the May issue. Love, love, love writing editorials! This one is currently titled Be Aware Before You Share and it is a look at what can happen when post on social media asking for help in solving agility training problems.

I’ve also got my usual Everything You Want to Know training column due. This month we have a few updates from agility organizations as well as some questions to answer, which I have not yet answered.

Everything except the editorial is overdue. Fortunately, I’m turning them into myself so I haven’t sent myself a late notice yet or anything. I’m nice like that.