May 15th, 2023
“Hey, MaMa, Mommy, Ma, Mom!”
Yesterday was Mother’s day and I was thinking about the difference stages of being called Mom.
When Lucia was born her mouth wanted to make the Duh sound first. Scott would walk in the room, her legs and arms would wildly kick up the air around her and she was say, “ Duh…Duh..Duh”. This easily turned into “Da, Da, Da” which was thrilling and important since Scott’s average time with her awake in a day was about 40 min due to his grueling orthopedic residency. Her “Da, Da, Da” would wake him out of the alternate reality of his training and land him in a soft world of pure wonder and joy. He was attentive from the start in part because she demanded his attention. Lucia was clever, direct and fiercely present. By five months she knew that she could get in 10 min or so of Daddy time if she replaced our alarm clock with a prompt 5:30 “DA..DA! DA!”. Scott would pick her up, give her a bottle and place her beside me where she would never fall back to sleep. Lucia withheld from me the coveted “Ma, Ma”. Unlike her father, she made me earn it. She was an amazing linguist very early and like a parrot could imitate words and phrases reflecting back to us that her world was not of babies but that of an upper east side Manhattan broad. By 1 ½ she was saying things like, “What’s up” or “What is the deal?” or our favorite, “Is that decaf?” (In part because while nursing I said this a lot.). Lucia refused to leave the house without a proper handbag and stunning sunglasses and preferred the Met because the swing swung higher in the playground near the met. And yes, she was very good at communicating these things. But “Ma, Ma “was not really her thing. Mostly she called me “Hey” or yelled, “Here…come here!”, adding a sort of snap with her fingers. When she finally decided to get around to saying my name it was a hard sharp NY order. “MA!”
Jack was different. From the moment they put Jack in my arms it felt like one big telepathic, “MaMa”. It was if he had returned to me. His body would go limp with surrender when I placed him against my heart. He was all trusting, nursed easily and needed very little. I know part of his contentment was because of the constant and Broadway worthy spectacle of his sister’s antics. His front row seat to the empire she was building was far too compelling to allow for him to want of anything. One day when he was 4, we were heading to nursery school and from the back seat he said, “Marbala Ma?” (When Jack was little, he sounded a bit like he had marbles in his mouth. I think this was because his older and best friend Grady had a really good Baltimore accent and he was trying to figure out how to work it in.) So there he was, in my rear view mirror, a mirror that I had always set on my little kids faces and not the road, and he says, “Mama, when I was in heaven I looked down and saw you and thought, that is the mama for me.” And that sums up my relationship with Jack. It is ordained. I am his “Ma, Ma.” And he still calls me this right in front of his friends and girlfriend, this along with “Little Mama” and “Gypsy…now gypsy,” when he is scolding me.
Maya arrived when Lucia was in 2nd grade and Jack in Kindergarten. When Jack turned 6 that year we held a party for him at a new arcade downtown at the seaport. At this point my due date was March 13th.. Jacks’ s birthday was March 14th. All Jack wanted for his birthday was to try this coveted new virtual ride at this arcade and also for the baby to come after his birthday. Maya somehow respected this and held out. I on the other hand was ready to burst, mostly because I was tired of this recurring nightmare that I would be abducted and placed on an island with hundreds of woman all sentenced to being 9 months pregnant for eternity. In my place a Stepford wife would show up without a baby and my children and husband would be suspicious but very happy because she kept a clean house, was always happy and on time and had a perfect body.
Toward the end of an exhausting night with 10, 5 year old’s screaming for tokens and running at top speed, I put myself on the famous new virtual ride that basically works like the machine at the paint store that shakes the paint. Confident that the baby in me was ready for the ride, I put the token in a few times to shake things up. At the end of the night, Jack came up to me, put his big ear and little head against my bursting belly and said, “Thank you MaMa….Ok baby.. You can come out now.” I know to this day the exactly spot on the sidewalk this happened.
The very next day Maya arrived. When Lucia first held Maya, her eyes welled up with tears and she said, “Oh mama. She is here.” Maya easily took the softest spot in Lucia’s heart. Jack was also very gentle with her and would lay on my lap while I nursed her letting her little body rest on his head. Maya also spoke very early but called me, “Mama, Ma, Mommy and Mom”, often all in a row so she could catch my splintered attention. Her quick study of everything made her delightful. She knew early that words were power and would use them to impress her older siblings and get whatever she wanted. Lu was “ew, ew, ew “and Jack “Ak, ak, ak,” I remember them waiting to be named by her. There was this impending excitement. Finally, her little tongue and huge blue eyes toned and clicked the right syllables for the first time so that on command the right person could be summoned and she could be served. And like the word Mama and Da, having two more people to help her navigate the world made her learning, her safety and her happiness 10-fold. When I look back to that time of my life the word Mom or some version of it was constant, like the birdsong that peeks when the sun rises. Mostly my response to all of them was, “What?…Whaat?, WHAT!” but I wasn’t really listening so everything was on constant repeat.
One day tired of hearing myself yell and rush and organize to get out of the house, I put a sign up above where I kept my car keys. It said, “Where the F are you going anyway…. calm down.” This little mantra soothed me. It helped me to keep a different pace. It caused us to be late to just about everything, but saved us from the constant race of being “there” instead of being “here”. By 3rd grade Lucia noticed the note and said, “Is F the fuck word?” I didn’t bother to take it down. She knew I was in the weeds.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I heard my name yesterday from each of my kids more than once. Maya was the first, sliding into my arms at 9 am after choosing not to go out last night. Instead, she allowed herself to sleep the 14 hours her body needed to recover from SAT’s, two proms and counting, 3 AP finals and lacrosse end of season championship games. I said, “Skipping a Saturday night out is what it feels like to really take care of yourself.” To which she said, “I am going to need a lot more sleep than one sat night.” Nestling a bit deeper, she settled into being with me for the whole day. After a lovely brunch with my parents, Maya, my Mom and I scooted with my scooter to the movie “Are you here God it’s me Margaret”. I highly recommend seeing this with your mom and daughters or sisters or girlfriends… It is a beautiful story about friendship and mothers and the sacred rite of womanhood. During a certain scene I felt the impact that my mother had in my life for making my own passage into womanhood beautiful and respectful. I then in turn, with a little witchy spin, created a beautiful ritual for my own girls encouraging my friends to really celebrate their own girls passage. In doing so I also wanted to etch into my husband and sons minds the importance of this superpower we hold that keeps time with moon.
And I know it worked. Jack really respects woman. He has been calling me every morning this week. He wants me to know that I am going to be ok and get through this little operation and be out hiking with him in Hawaii by August. He has a life coach tone to my recovery and is very invested in my health-conscious journey. For Mother’s Day two years ago he gave me heat changing mug with a picture of our family on a hike. Gradually as the water warms the mug, an image appears along with the words, “no cookies for breakfast”. Yesterday he called from Costa Rica from an Airbnb that sits above a surf shop that he and his friends have rented for the week. I asked if he had his shark ankle bracelet on him and he said he did but that it has little effect on the Crocodiles. Through the facetime window I see him and his friends and their various versions of facial hair, bear chested Denver tans and loose swim trunks. They are making smoothies and checking the surf updates on their phones. They all say Happy Mother’s day to me and promise to call their moms and be careful. I hang up deciding to be excited for them and pray instead to the shark and crock Mammas to leave them alone.
Lucia also calls twice and both times with a full face of smiles. Her and her boyfriend Griff are giving me updates on the build out of his four by four. (In Denver everyone knows this means a vehicle that can handle the mountains). By the afternoon they have a platform bed, which can turn into a single bed with seating, along with a clever storage unit underneath. They are building this out for their camping trip to Moab desert in Utah in just a few days. Little Christmas lights twinkle inside the small world their big adventures will hold. Griff’s 6.4 frame lays proudly like a giant in a doll house. Lucia closes the hatch to the back and proves that by leaving the window down his huge feet fit just fine.
I make a note to stock up on more food. In two weeks, we have a big family wedding and they will all be here under one roof with their boyfriend and girlfriend in toe. I will be on high alert for the sound of any kind of Maaa… Unlike when they were younger, I will relish their call, jump to their attention and ready myself with everything possible they could want. The little sign that once hung to remind me to be present to them hangs no more, instead there is a quiet and beautiful knowing that the word Mom means being right here, right now.