You have a baby. You survive the shock of that first year. You slowly accept your new world order. Then it happens. Your child finally says “Mama.” Video cameras are pulled out. There is an entry made in the baby book. Grandma is called.
And if you are me, you immediately begin working with your child on your preferred designations:
Blame Vicky Lawrence. Blame “Mama’s Family.” Blame the popular expression “Baby Mama.” I don’t like the term “Mama.” Never have, never will. I would not like it in a box. I would not like it with a fox.
My Mama-sporting friends consider me snooty. One pal with southern roots claims that “Mama” is the most endearing of all maternal epithets. I argue back, insisting that it is one of the easiest words in the dictionary to pronounce. It is practically a child’s excuse to not enunciate.
My friend rolls her eyes and fights the urge to slap me upside the head. She is used to me by now.
My two older sons were successfully weaned off “Mama” early on. I would be “Mommy.” This would later evolve into “Mom.” Yet my 4-year-old son, Joey, in an act of complete defiance, insists on calling me “Mama.” I correct him relentlessly:
JOEY: Mama, can I please have some juice?
JOEY: MAMA! Why aren’t you listening?
ME: I didn’t know you were talking to me.
JOEY: (Getting the gist): Oh, MAMA. You so funny. You are Danny and Jack’s “Mommy,” but you are MY MAMA! Ha ha. Dat funny how you didn’t answer me. You are funnier than Mickey Mouse, MAMA.
Despite my continued efforts to get Joey to drop “Mama” from his vernacular, he rejects all alternatives. His stubbornness is what defines him. Here is a child who refused to eat for two days because I would not buy him Cocoa Puffs. During potty training, he sat on the toilet for 10 hours because he did not want to wear underwear. Even as I tried coaxing him off with treats, he stayed put. For 10 hours. For once in my mothering life, I caved. I am not a caver. But I had essentially met my genetic match in terms of sheer grit.
I would never admit this to Joey himself, but it actually does my heart proud.
So I suppose I should have expected my willful youngest child to dig in on the whole Mama issue. Not willing to surrender, I cast aside my standard “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. I opted to use some of that “soft parenting” stuff that is all the rage:
Talk to your child.
Explain your reasons.
Don’t just say “no.”
I sat Joey down for our big heart-to-heart. I calmly described how sometimes people just don’t like certain words. I provided examples of words he himself disliked: naptime, carrots, NO. A light clicked on, and the world’s most obstinate 4-year-old seemed to understand. He nodded. He gave me a hug. Then he told me:
“OK, I won’t you call you Mama anymore. I will call you something else.”
At last. Maybe all that touch-feely crap truly holds water?
As Joey turned and ran towards his LEGOs, he gleefully shouted one parting sentence:
“I love you, MARIANNE WALSH!”
That’s right. My youngest child now calls me by my first and last name. He has taken to doing the same with my husband. Out in public, you will hear Joey scream:
Marianne Walsh! I have to PEE!
Marianne Walsh! I got stuff in my NOSE!
Marianne Walsh! Why did you put me in timeout for an HOUR?
Sure, we get some strange looks, but I am chalking it up to “a phase.” I choose to believe he will outgrow this preference eventually. And if he doesn’t?
Well, it still beats “Mama.”