Friday, January 8, 2010

Mama, Mommy, Mom

Like most mothers, my name has changed as my children have gotten older. I loved being "Mama", Emily's first name for me. It just seemed to roll off her tongue with an almost musical quality. Joey's first name for me was "Daddy" and Al was "Big Daddy". We often called each other by the kids' names for us and I had a lot of explaining to do when I called Al "Big Daddy" in front of some friends. Fortunately, that phase was short lived. With Jack, once again I was "Mama", which he pronounced with a bit of a wind-up and always an exclamation point at the end, "Mmmmmmama!" I morphed into "Mommy" as Emily entered middle school but by the time she finished 8th grade, I was "Mom" to all three kids. With some melancholy, I observed the passing of another life phase. Or so I thought.

I have discovered that the name by which my kids refer to me is an emotional litmus test of their sensibility. When she is excited or overly stressed, my 6-foot baby girl calls me "Mommy". She called the other evening after having spent the day apartment hunting with her future roommates. She sang, "Mommy?" as soon as I answered the phone and I knew immediately that she had had a good day. When she is really down and especially in need of my support, I am "Mommy" once again. Joey is an emotional stalwart and not prone to mood swings or anxiety. Even as a baby, he was content to let anyone hold him and seemed to be most comfortable in the arms of my well-endowed friends. Thus, I became "Mom" to him at a very early age. But the other day he called me, his voice cracking as he said, “Mommy, my head is throbbing and I don't feel good at all". Now this giant boy is lying on the couch, pumped up on Advil and watching Scooby Doo, and I have cancelled all my plans to hang out with him. As a 6th grader, Jack knows that it is totally uncool to ever call me "Mommy" in public. But when he is sad or not feeling well, it is "Mommy" to the rescue. When he was out sick from school one time, he asked me, "Do you love me more when I am sick?" I wrapped him up in my coziest sweatshirt (which he has never given back to me), and assured him that I loved him this much all the time.

"Mommy" is less of a name and more of private plea for love and attention that apparently works very well for my kids. I think it takes them back to a time of complete innocence when "mommy" and "daddy" took care of all their needs and could make any bad situation better. We become "mom" and "dad" as they strive for independence and personal autonomy, which is what we want for them. So, I have to learn to wean myself from my "mommy" response and help them understand that "mom" will always be there for them as well. I am glad that it is a gradual process.

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