I waited a long time to hear Smooch call me “Mama.”
Even though we started signing with him around 6 months, he neither signed nor spoke until he was over a year old. We had speech and language evaluations done when he was 13 months old, and found that that he was mildly delayed in both receptive & expressive language – but not enough to require therapy or intervention. Basically, they told us, just wait. Keep doing what you’re doing: sing, read, play. Describe the things you do and the things you see. So for months I talked myself silly and I waited.
He started saying “da” and it didn’t take long for him to use it as a proper name for Gruff. Every time he came home from work, he’d be greeted by an enormous baby smile and a happy little baby wiggle and a thrilled voice proclaiming, “Dada!” I was happy that my baby was finally talking. I was touched by how happy it made Gruff to hear our Smooch call him by name. But I was jealous, and a little irritated, too.
I give this child 24-hour-a-day care! Who is at home around the clock? Who changes all those diapers? Who pureed all that food? Who is nursing umpteen times a day? Who went through 9 hours of labor to bring you into this world? Me, that’s who! I’m the MAMA. Can’t you just say it, once? Pretty please?
I had other things going for me. Smooch is definitely a Mama’s boy – he gives me kisses and hugs and snuggles on his own, while Gruff has to seriously work and beg to get a kiss. I got to see all those adorable moments, the sweet sleepy eyes when I put him down for his naps, the excitement when he figured something out for the first time. But still, part of me was wistful and sad. He chose Dada for his first word – not Mama. Was he trying to tell me something?
On the other hand, I reasoned, he didn’t need a word for me. I was always there, and he was secure in that knowledge. I didn’t come and go, like Dada, so I didn’t need to be heralded when I came in the door after a 36-hour shift. I was always watching, so he didn’t have to shout my name to get me to notice his accomplishment or to ask for help. I tried to see the absence of my name as a positive sign, indicating that we had such an attached relationship that he didn’t even notice a need for a name – I was not other, I was an extension of his self.
Finally, he started to use the /m/ sound in his babbles. He jargoned with “ma” for a few weeks before he finally started to say “mama.” When it made its first appearance, he was looking at a magazine with me. He pointed at each infant or child and said, “bubba” and then pointed to each woman and said, “mama.” I knew he was getting close – he had similarly used “dada” as a general word for all men shortly before using it specifically for Gruff.
At 14 months old, Smooch called me Mama. I melted a little bit every time I heard it. I wish I could freeze-frame those moments, when his little voice gave me a name. Recognized me as other, but not just any other – his own Mama. All of my kisses and hugs and cuddles became so much sweeter when he’d run to me across the playroom, bury his head in my shoulder, pat my hair, and say “Mama.” Simple. Beautiful. Here is my heart: it is gliding through the air on the sound of this one little word.
Now Smooch is 20 months old. We’re starting to see tantrums. He has learned many words (about 40, if we count words and signs) and just this week learned “no.” (Oh, joy!) And what of my sacred name?
Mama has become a cuss.
He screams it. He shouts it. He wails it from his crib when he startles awake at 3:00 in the morning. When I leave the room to go to the bathroom, he beats on the baby gate to the rhythm of his chant, “MaMA! maMA! maMA!” He is taking my name in vain. It makes my temples throb, it makes my teeth grate. It drives me totally, completely, absolutely, up a wall. He’s still not very verbal, and so when he gets worried, upset, frustrated, angry, fill-in-the-emotion, I think that calling for me is the only way he knows to “use his words.” I think he’s hoping I can fix it, whatever it is, but so help me – sometimes I have not a clue what has set him off. I do my best. I stay near, I try to think back to what was happening beforehand, I offer hugs and kisses when he calms down. Eventually, he always calms down. And then we get to have those nice moments, where he is curled in my lap, sweaty and hot from all that fussing, and he pats my hand and calls me, sweetly, “Mama.”