The moment when your sweet baby starts babbling sounds, every parent begins to coach them to say the word that associates with their role in the family; Mama, Dada, Nana, Papa. When each of my biological children became of the age of talking, like most children they uttered the word “Dada” before “Mama”. And at the time, married to their father, I felt a pain of jealousy in my chest.
With each boy, I rocked them to sleep at hours of the morning that in a previous life (pre-kid) only saw when I was closing down the club or bar. Like all the moms I knew, I nursed each of them until my nipples were literally bleeding. Carrying kids strapped to my chest/back, poised on a hip while arms are dangling $200 worth of groceries and a Thomas the Tank Engine Train under my chin, it wasn’t until years later that my back felt in alignment. And after all of the love and selfless devotion, the thanks we mothers get is the first name to be uttered from our sweet baby’s mouths is “Dada”? I read once that children say Dada first so that the father figure feels connected to the child since often times the mother is the provider of food and undoubtedly spends more time with the baby. Other theories suggest that making the "da" sound is easier for a baby to do. Regardless, it all makes sense in theory. But at the time, in my sleep deprivation, it felt like you might as well pull my heart out of my chest and stomp on it, in the dirt.
My wife and I are in the process of adopting a child from foster care, M. He’s nine years old and has lived in many foster homes. We’ve read in several books that it may take years before the child calls the adoptive parents “Mom/Dad”. During the five months in which we were visiting him at his prior placement he referred to us by our first names. And as my wife and I would lay in bed holding hands and talking we would wonder “When do you think he’ll call us Mom/Momo? I wonder if it will feel different?”
I imagined that hearing M call me Mom would feel special, as though we crossed some hurtle or stage in our relationship and attachment. I assumed, given all that we have read on the subject, that it would take a while and he would make a very conscious choice to switch from calling me by my first name to then calling me Mom. But that’s not at all what has happened. Instead right from the start of living in our house he’s made the decision on his own to call us Mom and Momo, the names that our other two boys call us. But it feels different. Because I'm learning that the name “Mom” doesn’t mean the same thing to him that it does for my biological children. My biological children know that I’m their person. That when they need something I will provide for them, that I’ll be the one cheering them on, loving them and caring for them no matter what because that’s what a Mom is.
To M, it’s different. “Mom” is simply the title of the lead female adult in the house. He tells stories that start with “My other Mom…” and he’s not talking about his biological mother. He’s referring to one of the many, many women that he’s called Mom while being in foster care. And I understand why it has happened, and how him being allowed to call the lead female in every house “Mom” made him feel included especially if there were biological kids in the house as well.
My brain understands it.
But my heart, doesn’t.
Because I want him to say “Hey Mom…” and for it to feel like he knows I’m his person. That he understands “Mom” means forever, not for just right now. That he knows no matter what, being his Mom means that I will care and love him. That we will always be cheering the loudest and no matter what we will always be here for him. I hope that someday, he does understand it. And that we don’t just become his all time favorite Moms and instead that those many women who have cared and fed him in the various homes in which he has lived…..that their names change and they become Molly* and Suzie* and Jennifer*. And that our names as Mom and Momo means something completely different to him…in his heart.
(* these are made up names and not at all the names of the women who have cared for my son while in foster care.)