I’ve been called a lot of names in my life. Those of you who know me well are probably having a bit of a laugh recalling the things you’ve called me (to my face or behind my back), or have heard others hiss at me. Even at MKL’s and my wedding, one of our bridesmaids noted in her toast that “everyone knows” I’m a bitch. More than one friend calls me “the boss.” So, right. I’m that girl.
It doesn’t really bother me to be called names. But it has historically bothered me to be called something other than my name. Don’t call me “sweetie” or “baby” if you didn’t put the ring on my left hand, and especially don’t do it if you’re a business colleague. Don’t assume I’ll answer to “ma’am.” While I appreciate my southern upbringing, there’s just enough yankee blood coursing through my veins that I will assume you think I’m old. And I’m not allowed to be old. I have a toddler. Don’t think, mother, that you can give me a name with the express intention of calling me by a nickname. I let everyone know at age two that wasn’t going to fly, and I still only answer to that abbreviated version of my name when it’s used by two of my cousins.
There’s an exception to this rule that I’ve been waiting my whole life to envoke. I’ve always wanted to hear some tiny voice calling “Mom” or “Mommy” and know that it was meant only for me. It’s one of the milestones I’ve been looking forward to since finding out I was pregnant. MKL and I toiled over what our child would call us: Mama and Mommy, Mom & Mama, Mimi & Momo? The choices for lesbian maternal monikers are endless. We decided on Mama (MKL) and Mom (me), and ultimately knew that he’d call us whatever he comes up with. But I didn’t think he’d come up with Dad. Or Dog.
The saddest truth a couple of lesbian parents will face is that the vast majority of children say “dada” as their first syllable. In a straight-2-parent household, this is awesome. Daddy gets to brag that his new child has called him by name first. Unfortunately, daddy’s brags are usually crap. It’s just what kids say first. It’s not that they favor one parent over another – it’s just easier to say “dada” than “mama.” When it happened in our house it was hilarious. For a minute. For a month, even. It was his cute little parlor trick he did for company – watch me call my moms “dad” and see how much it bugs them!! And then we had to teach company not to request that trick anymore. After a few months it became something that would push all kinds of respect-our-two-mommy-household buttons we didn’t know we had. So eventually he stopped.
“Dog” was Rigby’s first official word. We followed any utterance of “dog” when directed at our dog with “what’s your dog’s name?” in the hopes that Rigby would one day yell out “STELLA.” Instead, we’ve inadvertently made him associate the word “name” with the word “dog.” Now if you ask him “what’s ___’s name?” the answer comes quickly: DOG. It makes no difference who you’re talking about: me, MKL, Stella, his grandparents, his godmother…everyone’s name is DOG. If you prompt him and remind him of the name you seek, he’ll say it happily. He just doesn’t do it unsolicited. Until last week.
1 year and 356 days after I introduced myself, Rigby finally called me by name. He saw me coming up the driveway after work and said “MOM” just as clear as a bell. Of course, I was outside the house at the time, so I didn’t hear it. But I saw his little mouth move and watched MKL jump up and down, so I know it happened. He called her “MAMA” a few hours later. So it seems he does, in fact, know who we are.
Since last week I’ve spent a lot of time focused on getting a repeat performance of his mom-o-gram. I’ve heard it a few times, though not with the vigor he used last week. I find it so strange how this affects my sense of identity. I felt like I became a mom when I got pregnant. And then I felt it again when the pregnancy got scary. I felt it again when we had baby showers and opened cards addressed to “Moms,” and again when I started my maternity leave. Of course I felt a surge of mommyhood when I held Rigby for the first time, again when he choked on a piece of fruit, and even more when he was sick for the first time and just wanted to be held. But there’s something truly special about Rigby’s acknowledgement of our roles in his life – as though he has just figured out who MKL and I really are. I know that I’ve been this sweet child’s mother for almost two years. I know that we bonded as mother and son and that he knew my name long before I knew his. But now when I’m in the store and he wants to tell me something, he can call me by name and everyone around us will know he’s my boy. I’m not his Dad. I’m not his Dog. I’m his Mom. And with every time he says my name (yes, even when he whines it or yells it at me later in life) I can assure you I’ll fall in love with him all over again.