No, My First Name Ain’t “Mama”
I consider myself a fairly open-minded person about any number of things. My kid comes out as pangender? No problem, as long as they’re happy and safe. Gay marriage? You love each other and want to be together in sickness and in health? Who am I to say you nay? Universal healthcare? Hell yeah.
But one thing I find myself extremely and stubbornly old-fashioned about is the use of the word “mom” or “mama” to describe my parental role. I don’t know if people have been doing this all along and I never noticed until I had a child, but it gets my back up the same way a stranger using, or overusing, my first name does.
I know part of it stems from how I was raised. My mother used to say, “‘Mom’ is a name, ‘mother’ is a title.” And so I always refer to her as my mother. I refer to other people’s mothers the same way. But if I’m talking about her to my sister, I call her “Mom”.
I think it might also be due to a sense of erasure that occurred after my child was born and suddenly I became “HT’s mom” or “you’re the mom?” or other people would casually say, “it’ll be okay, mama.” It was hard enough grafting this new facet of my persona — mother — onto what I felt was already a fully-realized personality. I didn’t need unwanted over-familiarity to muddy the waters and make being “mom” all that I was when I was already struggling to stay myself.
I try to take it with a grain of salt. I know not everyone had the upbringing I did (and thank whatever deity of your choosing you want, or chaos, or quantum physics.) My mother and stepfather were a confusing combination of hidebound Victorianism and Bohemian excess.They demanded respect and obedience from us because they were our parents. Titles were just de rigueur with them. As was saying “excuse me” before we left the dinner table, doing housework, and not questioning them ever.
You might think this would make me more inclined to get away from what was instilled in me from a very young age, but not in this case. I consider it a gesture of respect to people who are mothers. You’re not my mother, so I would never call you Mom. You’re a person, so I would never reduce your place in the world merely to being “So-and-so’s Mom”. I’ve sometimes used it after talking about the parent of a kid HT’s is friends with: “So-and-so, HT’s friend’s mother.” But I try not to make that the leading part of the identifier.
We are all people outside of that one aspect of our personalities, and I want to acknowledge that. It’s so easy to get swallowed up in raising the little people we’ve welcomed into our lives, and forget that we had or have interests or desires or needs outside of that. Those little people take up a lot of that energy and emotional and mental space. I didn’t write from the time HT was born until they were 4 or 5 because of a combination of taking care of them, my marriage falling apart, grad school, and work. I worried I might never write again because all of my drive was aimed at keeping us afloat in every sense.
(In case anyone’s curious, it was Smallville that kicked my writing muse back into gear. Just check AO3.)
To Hipster Teen, I am Mom or Mama. To the rest of the world, I am HT’s mother.
If we’re friends, you can call me Cassie, or Cassandra. If you’ve known me for most of my life, I might let you get away with calling me Cass, even though I hate it. If I don’t know you at all, it’s Ms. Phoenix.
The mother in me respects and honors the mother in you. But the rest of me knows that’s not all that you are.