Imagine growing up having to write Mackowiecki on all your assignments!
It wasn’t but recently that I was giving one of my fifth grade students a hard time about misspelling his own name on a writing assignment, but I’m hardly one to talk. When I was a kid I remember sitting with my mom for what seemed like hours at a time trying to learn how to spell my name. “It plays fair,” she’d say. “You just have to remember where to put that extra e.” I’d sound it out, then slap in that e any old place. Eventually my mom gave up on me and let me go by just Mack.
I think Mom was always disappointed I couldn’t conquer our ancestral name. Ironically, what she had me trying to spell wasn’t really our old Polish name at all. Her father had immigrated here in 1912 aboard the Vaderland. The family name, Mazowiecki (Mak-uh-vee-et-ski), was a mouthful (don’t forget that heavy eastern-European accent), so the folks at Ellis Island changed it to Makowiecki and eventually Mackowiecki (Mak-o-wik-ee), giving us the Hawaiian-sounding name I enjoy today. You just have to remember that extra e.
Growing up I always hated my name. “Mack” has only become “normal” in recent years, and even then usually only as a short form of Mackenzie. As uncomfortable as I was with ‘Mack,’ imagine how I would have felt about writing Mackowiecki on all my assignments! (Perhaps that’s why no matter how hard my mom tried, I never put that e in the right place.) I guess I should have felt lucky. Mackowiecki is certainly unique, and now that ‘Mack’ is in the mainstream, I’ve finally let go of my childhood embarrassment. What’s more, when I consider that my maternal great-grandparents were named Porkorski, I really count my blessings.
These days I’m more self-conscious about my middle name. (It really is Wonderful. Just ask my mom.) By definition, wonderful means “full of wonder,” but I worry that some might find it pretentious. I’m hopeful the stories and plays I create will fill my readers and students with wonder. The first play I wrote was about the man who holds the World’s Record for being struck by lightning, Roy Sullivan. I wonder what Roy was like. I wonder why he was struck so many times. I wonder if it made him feel invincible or just unlucky. His story has a sad ending, but that’s part of what makes it wonderful.
I’m best known for the read aloud plays I write for kids. My first one was an adaptation of Peter Rabbit, which I wrote in 1998. I love how the sarcastic sparrows flutter around the garden telling Peter how easy it will be for Mrs. McGregor to make him into rabbit stew. I sent that play to Storyworks, Scholastic’s classroom language arts magazine. Though Peter didn’t fit into the magazine’s plans, the editor contacted me and asked me to write other plays for them. Since then, I’ve written over forty plays for Storyworks and its sister publications. My editor there, Lauren Tarshis, has been my champion, encouraging me and helping me find new opportunities, such as at Scholastic Professional Books where I’ve been lucky enough to publish three titles. What a blessing Storyworks has been to my teaching and my writing!
Now don’t go forgetting that e!
The Daily Platypus — Mack’s public school website