Last year, we were at a friend’s house and The Who was standing on a big rock in their backyard next to his pal, B. I was standing on the ground next to him. The Who said, “I need help getting down,” and B replied, “Your mom can help you.” He looked at B blankly and said, “My mom is at work,” and there was a long period of silence as B looked over at me, standing inches away, and then back at The Who. And then back at me.
Not an uncommon exchange for a kid with two moms, I’d assume. And although B was completely befuddled, it of course made perfect sense to me. His ‘Mom’ is obviously “Mommy.” The parent standing next to him (me) was ‘Mama.’ Totally different person. B might as well have said, “that fork will get you down,” because a fork would be about as helpful as a parent over an hour’s drive away.
What’s funny is that it has taken all of The Who’s 4+ years for m* and I to get the “Mama/Mommy” thing down. And we’re still not 100%. We both still sometimes answer to the other one’s name and we both still sometimes refer to ourselves by the wrong name. Just like B — and most people — we were socialized to understand that the various names for mother all apply to the same person: the mother. But not so for The Who (and presumably other children of two mothers.) He learned our different names as though they really were completely different. He didn’t know anything else. To him, “Mama” and “Mommy” were as different as “Mommy” and “Daddy.” And I have actually always found this charming. I have been charmed by the innocence of small children and their willingness to accept what is taught to them as the sole truth.
But this is changing. He is beginning to understand it in a new way and this afternoon, he schooled me on it. He was recalling a story from his classroom earlier in which one of his teachers told him that his “mom wants him to wear sunscreen when he goes outside.” To which I replied, “Yeah, I do. Well, Mommy does, sure, but that is what I told her.”
“No, Mama,” he told me, in a slightly condescending but compassionate tone. “She didn’t mean ‘Mommy’ even though she said ‘Mom’. She meant you. Because Mama isn’t what she calls you. It’s what your kid calls you. It’s only your name to your kid. When someone says “your mom” they mean any of your parents, not just the one you call Mommy.”
Touché, kid. Touché