12 May 2012

Say my name

Before Gabriel was born, we talked about what we would like to be called as parents. Most parents probably have an obvious answer to this question, or don't even think about it, but since we were working with two languages, and we both had some opinions about parental nicknames, there were a few things to discuss.

In Catalan, most parents we know use mama/papa, but M. grew up using mare/pare (pronounced mar-uh and par-uh), which literally mean mother and father but sound, in terms of formality, closer to mom and dad. As per his experience, he preferred, then, using mare and pare--or at least preferred the latter to the "papa" option.

Meanwhile, I didn't particularly like mommy/daddy, although I'm not sure why, since that's what I called my parents when I was a child. Maybe it didn't seem to suit us or seemed too American for our little international family. I liked mama and papa, but if M. didn't like papa, I thought we should just go with mom and dad from the beginning. So, our plan was that we would be--and refer to each other when speaking to our baby as--mom (or maybe mama) and dad in English, or mare and pare in Catalan.

As I'm sure you've guessed by now, the best laid plans regarding unborn children are always likely to alter radically in the face of actual children and their actual quick little minds.

When Gabriel started speaking, he called us "mama" and "dada" and honestly, I have no idea how that came about. I suppose we started out by referring to one another as mom and dad and he baby-fied the terms until we ourselves were soon using those names. I don't know why we didn't even think about "dada" ahead of time, but I rather love it, as it's not as grown-up sounding as "dad" and not as twangy as "daddy."

I loved hearing Gabriel say our names, even if he was crying--and in the very beginning, that's when he'd say them. A wail that could be identified as a name, the long vowels letting us know he needed us. It seems he made the choice, in the end, about what to call us.

But it doesn't end there, because as he's grown he's adapted to saying various versions our names, as well. "Mommy" seemed to appear somewhat spontaneously, and he still calls me mommy from time to time, especially when yelling for me. Of course, I don't mind as much as I thought I would. I think in part this came about because for many months his pronunciation of "grandma," his name for my mother, sounded nearly identical to "mama." So "mommy" was a way to distinguish the two.

Meanwhile, our families kept referring to us as "mommy and daddy" or "mama and papa"--both sides are still getting used to "mama and dada." So Gabriel would hear others refer to me as "mommy" and it didn't take much for that to sink in. Even recently, when M.'s family was here, Gabriel referred to him as "papa" because he heard others use it. Children are such mimics. (Every once in a while, and this I find hilarious, Gabriel will also call us by our first names because he hears us yelling for each other.)

As for mare and pare, since I refer to M. as "dada" even if I'm speaking Catalan, "pare" hasn't caught on. But M refers to me as "mare," and of late Gabriel has taken to that, especially now that M. is doing the daycare pickup in the evening and talks to him about coming home to me. Every day I can hear Gabriel's little voice from down the street and as they come in the front door, excitedly clamoring, "mare! mare! mare!" He runs to me, giggling and happy, flings his arms around my neck, and I am so proud to be his "mare" as well as his mama, or mommy, for that matter.

I'm sure that some day we'll phase into the more grown-up titles of mom and dad, and mare and pare, depending on the language we're speaking, some day when he knows we're just fallible human beings. In the meantime I love and savor every utterance of his childhood names for us. Because when he calls me mama, or some variation thereof, I am everything that word encompasses: powerful and wise, beautiful and calm, able to soothe every worry, every fever, every tear. Even if I know I'm not those things, he believes that I am.

Mama: a beautiful name. I love it for being universal, uniting me to a world of amazing women who have shared the crazy and wonderful experience of motherhood. But I mostly love it for the person I am when my particular child says it to mean his particular mother. To be sure, it's not my only name, nor my only identity, but it's my newest name, the one that I treasure for my child's faith in who I am and always will be.


Catanea said...

You can never tell. Younger Daughter (the Catalan born one) still calls her father "Dada" at 25...and both the girls who see us together, mostly in France, have decided to call me "maman" - and together they call K "papá" with the accent on the 2nd syllable. So that's 25 & 41. Their ages. Who'd've guessed?

korinthia said...

That's so funny, because I really wanted to be Mommy. I think my oldest used it for about two months and then it was Mama. Never pictured myself as Mama, but coming from my kiddos it's the best name in the world.