Monday, September 21, 2015

I’m Not Ready to Be “Mommy”

Since the day my boys were born, I have been “Mama.”

I never felt like a “Mommy,” which is actually a little ironic, since that’s what I called my own mother when I was young. My mom epitomizes everything I believe a mother should be. It seems natural that I’d be eager to take on her title.

But for some reason, the moment the doctor pulled my boys out of my open abdomen—10 weeks before their due date—it was the word “Mama” that popped into my head. As I kissed the delicate red skin of their cheeks, mere seconds before they were whisked away to the NICU, I knew that’s who I was meant to be.

In their absence, I whispered it to myself like a quiet prayer. The word on my lips felt much like their skin had: soft, comforting, natural, perfect.

I fell in love with the word “Mama” the same way I fell in love with my boys: immediately and irreversibly. I loved its simplicity and its symmetry. That one tiny syllable—whispered twice—was a perfect analogy for the two new loves that had entered my life.

The word “Mommy” just didn’t have the same effect. When I said it, I felt tension in my face as my lips stretched horizontally, their corners drooping slightly downward on the last syllable. It felt forced. It felt unnatural.

And it sounded unnatural, at least to me.

“Mama” sounded like a lullaby, and “Mommy,” more of a kitschy theme song to an animated kids’ show. Maybe it was that long “e” at the end of it. It sounded hard to me, and it didn’t match the new softness my boys had created in my heart.

And so, the day they were born, I was, too. As their “Mama.”

As their Mama, I watched them grow from scrawny preemies into chubby cherubs. When they smiled for the first time, it was their Mama who smiled back.

As their Mama, I laughed when they learned to crawl by chasing my untied shoelace around the kitchen floor. When they made it all the way to the refrigerator, it was their Mama who cheered for them.

As their Mama, I gazed upon their tiny hands when they reached out for one another, their little arms closing the gap between their Rock ’N Plays. When they interlocked their delicate baby fingers, it was their Mama’s heart that melted.

As their Mama, I marveled at the innovative way they walked around on their knees—their torsos upright—scooting around as though in animated prayer. When they transitioned to their feet and took their first steps, it was their Mama who clapped with pride.

And when I finally heard them call me “Mama,” each in his own time, I couldn’t imagine ever being anyone else.


Now here we are: My boys are on the cusp of Threenagehood. Instead of walking, they’re learning to use the potty. Instead of first words, we’re celebrating letter recognition. Instead of soft coos and simple words, I’m listening to full sentences and (frequent) demands.

Instead of rocking them to sleep in my arms at night, I’m tucking them into big boy beds. Instead of falling asleep to the sound of my voice, they’re drifting off in fits of giggles, while I sit in another room, listening to their private chatter (literally) behind closed doors.

And instead of “Mama,” I am “Mommy.”

The first time I heard one of them say it was over breakfast. They were forking sliced bananas at their Cars foldout table, and I was walking out of the kitchen to use the restroom. As I left, the voice of my youngest trilled after me:


At first I laughed. I’d never heard either of them use that word before, and its newness sounded off-kilter and unnatural, like a native English speaker saying “Hola” for the first time. Of course, toddlers believe anything that evokes laughter bears repeating, so it wasn’t long before my other son was saying it:

“Mommiieeee, more pancakes. Mommiiieee, more ’nanas. Marshmallow cereal, Mommiiiee!”

I thought the novelty would wear off once I stopped laughing, but it kept happening.

When one of them accidentally locked himself in a bathroom stall at the splash park: “MOMMY, help!”

At bedtime, as we were reading stories: “Sit on MOMMY’s lap.”

When they caught me “resting my eyes” for a moment: “MOMMY go night-night.”

When they walked out the front door for a boys-only playground trip with Daddy: “Bye, MOMMY!” (That one stung just a little more than the others.)

I have nothing against the word “Mommy;” I’ve just never identified with it. I don’t feel a connection to it. But I suppose one of the poignant inevitabilities of motherhood is that as your children grow older, your identity—and the role you play in their lives—changes right along with them.

I’m not ALWAYS “Mommy.” In fact (to my relief), the boys have—on their own—reverted back to using “Mama” as their primary way of addressing me. But sometimes (usually when they’re being silly, or acting particularly independent), I become, at least for the moment, “Mommy.” 

And I don't like it.

I know it sounds silly that I'm getting so hung up on such a minute linguistic change. It is—after all—just a word. One word. Not even one word. One syllable. One vowel sound.

An “ah” to an “e,” and—just like that—it feels like I'm losing a piece of myself, the piece that initially connected with them in that NICU, almost three years ago. 

Just like that, I can feel their babyhood slipping away, taking my Mamahood with it.

Far more than the flip of a calendar page, the shift to “Mommy” is making me realize how quickly they’re growing up, and how much we’re leaving behind.

I know we still have a lot of "firsts" to look forward to: The first day of kindergarten, first bike rides, first Little League games, first science fair projects, first dates and first kisses (oof...just typing that makes me cringe).

I plan to be there for all of it (minus, perhaps, those first kisses), whether it's as their "Mommy," or (eventually, I'm sure) their "Mom."

But as they—and the role I play in their lives—continue to grow and change, I hope they'll always remember that I was their "Mama" first.


  1. This is very sweet. I "always" thought of myself more as the Mom (always since I became willing to start thinking about having children about a year before I had one). But then once my baby was born, I started just wanting him to acknowledge me. I don't care what he calls me...I want to know that he knows who I am and that I have some special place in his tiny heart.

    Alas, he says "Mama" at random intervals, no matter how many times we try to associate it with me. I feel better that he also doesn't know "Dada", and then I feel slightly worse that he doesn't seem to recognize his own name at one year. His hearing is otherwise fine. He seems to just be stubborn in this regard.

    Thanks for sharing your sweet story and helping me to know what to look forward to.

    1. Oh it took my boys a while to associate the name with me, as well! Hang in there, Mama, and before you know it, it'll be "Mama, I'm hungry," "Mama, I pooped," "Mama, why are there little hairs all over your legs?" 😉