When I Grow Up

When Do I Have to Stop Calling You Mommy?

My early memories are filled with images of my mom. I was an only child until the age of 6, and like most moms at the time, she didn’t work outside the home, so we spent a lot of time together. A typical day started with each of us doing our own thing, until lunch, our special break of the day. We sat at the table, my little legs dangling and swinging, and had intense conversations about life, in the serious way only preschoolers and kindergartners can have. Bedtime was special. She’d lie beside me and read a bedtime story (or two or three). The rare nights she missed bedtime held their own excitement.  When she and Dad had plans to go out, I sat in her room, chatting with her while she got ready. Each time, I told her, quite honestly, that she was the most beautiful woman in the world (70s blue eye shadow and all).

At some point in elementary school, I asked my mom when I had to stop calling her Mommy. I noticed that older kids no longer used this special word and was not looking forward to that particular milestone. She told me that many children stop calling their mothers Mommy (in favor of Mom) at some point, but that as far as she was concerned, I could use either, or both, whatever I was comfortable with. This made me feel much better.  I gradually moved to calling her Mom in public, but usually stuck to Mommy when it was just us.

When my own kids started school, this conversation flashed into my mind. I realized that things were going to change, in many ways, and certainly faster than I was prepared for. Other children and their families’ values and traditions would quickly start to exert influence on my children. In some ways this was a good thing – they would be exposed to many wonderful things I couldn’t share with them, but it was also a bit scary – they would meet other mothers and there were likely to be comparisons. They would start to look at me in a different way.

My kids never asked me this dreaded question. They got older and Mommy became Mom or Mother (or even Kimberly when I was distracted and failed to respond). When my oldest three began German language classes, they switched to the German version: Mutti. My youngest, however, asserted her individuality from a young age: she chose Mama instead of Mommy from the time she could speak. Like her siblings, as she got older this sometimes became Mom. (Though when I am distracted, she has her own technique to bring me around: a scary, gravelly, horror-movie way of saying Ma-Ma that gets everyone’s attention.)

My kids are all grown, but some things haven’t changed. There are some specific times (when they are overly stressed, sick or especially when they want something) I can count on them to call Mommy, though most of the time my name changes with the mood (theirs). Though what they call me doesn’t matter all that much to me, I will admit, I’m still partial to Mommy and Mama which are quite endearing.

In overthinking the issue, I have come to realize what I couldn’t quite express when I was a child myself, the real reason I still sometimes call my own mom Mommy: it is subtle, but there is a difference between the two words. Mother or Mom tells people what you are; Mommy or Mama tells people who you are.  Mommy implies greater intimacy, a closer relationship. As with much else, I agree with my own mom on this. My kids will never have to stop calling me Mommy.

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