I thought my heart would explode the first time I heard it: "Ma-ma." No, it wasn't the undifferentiated, monosyllabic babbling that happens when babies first discover their voices. This was the one accompanied by chubby little splayed hands, a toothless grin, and that word offered just for me: "Ma-ma."
The novelty wears off after a bit and you get used to it. Waking up in a dark crib: "Ma-ma!" Falling down while first learning to run: "Ma-ma!" And, of course, the first time an older sibling punches or hurts them: "Ma-ma!" Sometimes you cringe, but most of the time it reminds you that you are somebody's mother.
Then some time goes by. For my kids, it shifted around the preschool age to "Mom-MY" from "Ma-ma." Requests were preceded by "Mommy" and so were those "I'm sorrys" that came after those things they knew they had no business doing.
That shift--that is, the mama-to-mommy shift, I didn't notice so much. Like, it sort of slipped in like a thief in the night and didn't create much of a ruckus when it did. And really, it was fine because "mommy" still sounds infantile enough to remind you that they're still you're babies.
But then comes the day that you pull through the carpool lane at school and just before the door opens for them to jump out, they say it. This new thing that you hadn't been hearing before. "Mom."
And maybe other mothers didn't notice it like I did when it happened, but my guess is that some did. A little tiny piece of my heart broke when I did, too. Like "mom" seemed like something for kids with drivers' licenses and cell phones. Not a word that should be coming from the mouths of my little babies.
So yeah. For the last few years, I've been "mom" and, for the most part, it's been cool. But every now and then, I have a day like I did yesterday where things are a little different. Yep.
Usually, it happens when someone has had a nightmare or something. In they run to my side of the bed, cuddling my neck and asking with wide saucer eyes, "Mama? Can I get in bed with you?" Which, in my house, isn't often but does still happen from time to time. But yesterday, it wasn't that. No, it wasn't.
It all started with a text from my own mother. It simply said, "I need you," and nothing more. When I called her, I immediately knew what was wrong. She was having a bad Deanna-day and was missing her big girl something ferocious. I could hear her panting and knew that she was crying the ugliest of cries. And I just held the phone, I did, and told my mama that it would be okay. And, I swear to you, I called her just that. "Mama."
Because, to me, there is a tenderness and innocence in that word. It is primal, like the love you feel for her when you can't even form memories or words. So it seems to come out as that during those times, whether I'm thinking of it or not.
And, sure, before someone goes into a diatribe about how they are from a part of the country where mothers are mamas forever, please, just follow my point and what it means in the evolution of the relationship between mother and child. Yeah.
Okay, so I talk to my mama and it makes me cry. And I was sitting right at the kitchen table where Isaiah was doing his homework when that happened. My sweet boy looked terrified and asked, "What's wrong? What happened?" And I told him nothing had happened. But then he went on to ask, "Please tell me no one died. Oh no, did someone die?" And quickly I reassured him that, no, no one had died recently but that Grandma Shug was just having a day where her heart felt sad about Auntie going to heaven. Before he could say more, I went to the back to speak with her more and held the phone a little bit longer while Will and Fran came to be with her.
And, no, my mother isn't falling a part at the seams or paralyzed by grief but she is human. And humans who've gone through the worst day of their entire life are allowed to have days like the one she was having. Yes, they are.
So, yeah. I get off the phone and return to the kitchen table. I'd cleaned off my face and wiped my eyes with a cool towel. Isaiah was doing his homework and Zachary was on the couch reading a book.
"Mama? Do you need a hug?" Isaiah asked. And I nodded and told him yes. So he came and hugged me tight which made me shed a few tears again. A few minutes later, Zack came over and scooted onto my lap like he did when he was three years old. He nestled his face into my neck and simply said, "I love you, Mama. Okay?" And I replied to him that I knew because I do.
Around four this morning, Isaiah climbed into my bed "just to snuggle." He quietly slipped beside me and wrapped his arms around me. I was groggy but not so groggy that I didn't catch the first thing he said before we both fell back asleep: "I love you, Mama." My boy was seeing about his mama. Who was sad because she'd been seeing about her own mama. So yeah. He was, even at four in the morning, he was. And damn, I appreciated that. I did and I do.
By 7AM, I was back to being "mom" again. And that was fine with me. It was. I called my own mother up who also sounded much better. Her heart was in a better place and the love provided to her by her son and her daughter-in-law had lightened her soul. So yeah. By sunrise, she, too, was "mom" again, and that seemed okay with her as well.
I guess I'm just reflecting on the reciprocity of tenderness that motherhood--and parenthood--afford us. From reaching toddler hands to pat-a-cake to manicures together. And from "mama" to "mommy" to "mom" and back again. . . . it is all a beautiful continuum that only deepens regardless of what you call it. Whether your mother was smooth at it or lumpy at it, I love knowing that some innate piece of us yearns to love her back and shield her heart. Always, always, always.
Honestly? I write this blog to share the human aspects of medicine + teaching + work/life balance with others and myself -- and to honor the public hospital and her patients--but never at the expense of patient privacy or dignity.
Thanks for stopping by! :)
"One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends of how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."
~ James Baldwin (1924 - 1987)
"Do it for the story." ~ Antoinette Nguyen, MD, MPH
Details, names, time frames, etc. are always changed to protect anonymity. This may or may not be an amalgamation of true,quasi-true, or completely fictional events. But the lessons? They are always real and never, ever fictional. Got that?