Saturday, September 24, 2005

They call me mom

I had a dinner party last night. As if I did not already writhe in enough chaos - I just had to invite more over. Ah, well, a girl needs some company. I invited my best friend, and her three children (same ages as my brood) and two other colleagues from work - one being a senior prof (T) whom I have worked with since I was an 18 year old plucked fresh from the countryside and the other a woman (C) whom I have grown to love and respect since I started teaching. She was the unfortunate recipient of the departamental angst I alluded to this summer. She's a progressive Catholic feminist theologian - and a real, hilarious and all around awesome individual, that I am lucky enough to call friend. She brought her two older boys (8 and 10) - and that increased the child population up to 8. I served Fat Bastard wine and Monty Python's Holy Ale ("Tempered over Burning Witches") (which I purchased somewhat as a joke and on a whim, but it turned out to be a very hearty, full bodied and pleasant beer). I whipped up a Rice Biryani, fresh nectarine chutney and a chana masala, and we feasted and there was much revelling.

C's kids have always called her by her first name. It always struck me as odd and I never had the chance to ask her about it. I think I always assumed it was a well thought out feminist inspired decision. It came up in conversation last night. It turns out that her oldest started calling her by her first name when he was 3, while they were spending the summer with family. Everyone else called her C, so he followed suit and it stuck. Now T thought it was great, and had some issues about parents always calling each other "Mom" or "Dad". For example when talking to Owen, Eric could say "Go give that to Heather" rather than "go give that to Mommy". T felt that using the former would teach children that mom or dad had identities beyond the mommy/daddy role.

I thought about this for a while, since I would be the average person who is a "mom" and a "mommy", and whom Eric refers to me as mommy when he is talking about me to the kids, but calls me Heather when only referring to me - I wondered how I felt about this alternative. I thought a bit about the alternative and came to the conclusion:

I have not had much angst about my identity as a mother. Sure, there is plenty of angst in the day to day insanity, but I don't really have much of a problem with the role. And I am a mother the moment I walk out of the door, when I walk into class and when I pay my bills. In fact, I have been really working on stirring up all this mommy business and the dharma, although mommyness does not afford a heck of alot of cushion time. I figure, being a mom can offer me an opportunity to practive mindfulness, and that ought to suffice until more child-free moments opens up for cushion time.

Being a mom isnt like wearing a hat - I can't really take it off when I go somewhere else - and the responsibility has a way of following me where ever I go. Any major decision now involves the fact that I am a mom why wouldnt I take pride in that title? I could understand the point that T was trying to make about teaching the children to celebrate my other identites, but I guess I felt that the title "mom" was being disparaged. It's an honorable title. Those of us who have walked in our mom personae for a number of years, certainly feel that all our wear and tear is deserving of the honorific "mom".

Maybe I am missing his point. So, until then, just call me mom. I won't mind a bit.


Mary P. said...

I agree. I was going to comment "Mom", or, in my case, "mummy", is an honorific. One which I won't lightly cast aside.

A friend of mine's six year old son has taken to calling him by his first name. My friend doesn't mind, but, to be honest, it actively angers me. Me being me, I had to investigate my emotional response.

It's not that it shows lack of respect. It may or it may not; in this specific case, that's not the issue, though I've seen others where it is.

What it boils down to is this: of all the people that inhabit this planet, there are only three who may call me "mum". I've worked hard to be a mother, I've invested years of my life in what I see as one of the single most significant endeavours I've ever embarked upon - and you want me to think I'm lessening myself to accept the title? Or that there's something "empowering" about relinquishing it? Me, I perceive it as an impoverishment.

Additionally, the notion that using first names teaches the child that mommy and daddy have other roles seems fatuous. Of course mommy/daddy have other roles. If the child is so young that they haven't made that connection already, then they are young enough that no other role than mommy/daddy matters yet. They aren't that old before they figure out that a parent is also a sibling, a child, a worker, a friend. How stupid do we think our kids are, anyway?

My oldest will be twenty in a few weeks. We relate far more as peers now than ever before, but she still calls me "mom", and if she ever stopped, I would consider it a loss.

hotboy said...

My kid who left home yesterday (boohoo!) has always called me Hotboy. I tried and tried to get her to call me da, but she gave that up almost as soon as she found another sound she could say. Then I told her to call me sir, which we see in some American movies here, and that didn't take. Neither did your worship. Once I told her I was going to become a fundamentalist christian and then I could stone her to death if she dared to disobey me, but I don't think she believed me. Hotboy it was and Hotboy it is. Nobody else called me da, or dad. Since I never hit her, there wasn't much I could do about. Spare the rod. No wonder the world is going to the dogs! Hotboy

Susan said...

This is a wonderful post--I love it.

I think quite a lot about how names are markers of various things--my children call me Mom or Mommy; my husband calls me Susan; college and grad school friends often call me Suse; the nice people at the dry cleaners call me Mrs. Husband's Name (which is not my name), etc etc. When I was teaching, my students often called me Professor, even though I am without a PhD--I taught in a program that encouraged this, as a mark of respect (many of the students referred to the PhD faculty as 'Doctor').

What is my point? We have been teaching our children their names and phone numbers, in case of catastrophe, as well as our names, and it has bred an interesting discussion about nicknames. Henry likes that ONLY he and Charlie can call me Mommy; he also likes that my last name is not the same as his. I think, rather than undermining any sense that I have a life away from my mommying, using that title with these children reinforces that, in other places, I have different titles and different responsibilities.

And, as you point out, I am ALWAYS the mommy, and always will be. And I love that.

hotboy said...

There's no one like your maw. I'd never dream of calling her anything else. I could burst into song: "Ma maw's a millionaire. Blue eyes an curly hair. There she is and there she goes, sitting among the Eskimos. Ma maw's a millionaire." There's nobody like your mammy. Should be differentiated, surely! Hotboy

Tor said...

"Mom" is essential. Much better than "mother."

Come to Maine sometime. Everyone over a certain age gets to call everyone under a certain age "dear." That really gets some folks from away a dite nervous.