My friends call me Lisa, my husband calls me Lis, my grandmother made me smile because she always called me Lizzy. But there is no name I have ever cherished, no name that held my heart like Mommy. My boys were born in England and I had to teach them to call me Mommy. They wanted to default to Mummy. I couldn’t be Mummy, I was simply far too American and Mummy always made me think of embalmed Egyptians.
So I taught them to speak and I taught them to call me Mommy and I hoped in some deluded little part of my brain that they would never stop.
I didn’t just want to hold onto Mommy because it has the soft warm sound of a toddler getting up from a nap or a third grader slamming the door and calling for you. I wanted to hold on to Mommy because it is close, intimate, an endearment from those we love best. My husband referred to me as Mommy when he spoke to our children, their grandparents all did the same.
But one by one they began to call me Mom. They had cute invented nicknames for me, as I still have for each of them, but none of them stuck. I became Mom and when they need my undivided attention, or money, Mother.
For a time I mourned Mommy, feared as the name faded so would my day-to-day closeness to my sons. Yet, it was a name that did not fit with their much deeper voices. It was a name that did not fit with the many new roles I was going to play in their lives.
Happily I relinquished the role of cook and laundress. With a massive weight off my shoulders I let go of being nagger-in-chief. I was less gracious about giving up my role as heroine of their lives, that beloved figure who can solve any problem. Chief cuddler, losing that one hurt.
What I didn’t realize while my children were small is that many of these roles would be replaced by new ones that I would come to love.
As teens, my kids clammed up. And while, for a parent, this can be a painful process even as we realize that it is a normal part of adolescence. I mourned the boys who once wanted to tell me so much about their thoughts and lives. And then they came back. Sure my kids don’t report in like they did in 6th grade. But college kids and young adults no longer need to assert their independence, or fear being grounded. Thus, they are far happier to share both their good news and bad. And what could make a parent happier? Research shows that their generation is far more forthcoming about their lives and it is our generation’s good fortune.
I am now a travel consultant. Gone are the days of acting as a travel agent for my family. If they are old enough to travel by themselves, they are old enough to book the train, plane or bus. But if they want ideas on where to go, if they want to discuss their plans, ponder their options, or simply share their excitement, I am available.
The directions my kids’ careers ultimately take is entirely up to them. But I have been known to proofread a resume, speculate on potential interview questions and act as audience for an elevator pitch. I have also been known to overstep the mark and search online for summer internships, forwarding links to college kids immersed in final exams. While still in high school such suggestions were not met with enthusiasm, now I get nothing but gratitude.
Google, I thought, would usurp our roles as technical advisors in our kids lives. Why call your mom to ask how to remove a stain or renew your passport, when YouTube can show you how? The answer is simple, because she is your mom.
What Google will never replace is the voice of experience, a role parents have always played. When my kids were in high school I, of course, knew nothing. But just as Mark Twain* predicted, as they grew older, I grew wiser. Now I am a trusted advisor, someone whose advice they seek without a trace of teenage surliness on their faces.
I am often part of a moving crew. For a generation that moves constantly, from dorms to home to dorms to apartments to home and back again, they are awfully lucky that our generation of parents is happy to act as unpaid movers.
While Mommy may have slipped away, there is one role that is forever unchanged. I am the purveyor of unconditional love. It is a role unaffected by what they call me or how old they are. It is the one role that will never change.
* “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Mark Twain
Photo credit: Alex Kehr