Sunday, January 21, 2007

we're on a first name basis

This is another in an Occasional Series: Reader Requests. Hughman requested that I write about why Iris Uber Alles (and yes, I know about the umlaut but I'm just too lazy right now to figure out how to do it on this keyboard) calls us, her parents, by our first names.

I've never had a name I felt comfortable using for either parent. We weren't really close, and it always felt strange to call them "Mom" or "Dad"; those names seemed too intimate for the relationship. I remember my mother hissing at my sister and me once, "Don't you ever call me Mama" (pronounced "Mumma" in our neck of the woods), which was weird because I don't think it had ever slipped across our lips. I largely avoided calling them anything.

Currently they use their first names in correspondence and over the phone, and that just feels weird to me. I can't bring myself to speak their first names, which makes sense to me. After all, my mother felt very strongly when I was a child that I was not allowed to call any grown-up by a first name. This was particularly awkward when I was in my later teens and one of my mother's closest friends of the time insisted I call her by her first name. If I called her "Mrs. Friend", she'd be offended and say, "Oh, call me Mary." If I dared speak her first name, I'd see the glare of my mother (who had no shortage of time or energy for punishing me). So she became another adult I had to address without using any name.

When I became a parent, I didn't have strong feelings about what my children should call me, except that I preferred them to stay away from "Mom", which felt overly associated with my own mother. One of Iris Uber Alles's first words was "ma ma", which made me happy. Anton, who would like to be his father if he could, decisively plumped for "Daddy" from the onset, which was what everyone called his father.

Pretty much as soon as toddler Iris Uber Alles learned to speak our first names, she often used them, but not exclusively. Being an imaginative child, she also bestowed a series of nicknames onto us. As a two year-old, she called me "Mommymama", which I loved, but Anton glommed onto it and bugged her to call him "Daddydada", which cheapened "Mommymama", and both fell into disuse. She dubbed herself "Muggie", and for a while, she called me "MommylovesMuggieFisheater", scandalized at age 2 1/2 by seeing me eat some crab. Around the age of three, she called me "Momo", which I liked very much, but which she dropped after starting preschool and having the other little kids ask, "Momo? Who is Momo? Why is she calling you that?"

Of course, she still at times called us by our proper names, and her preschool reinforced this. Both my children have been enrolled in parent cooperative preschools, nonprofit descendants of the progressive education movement. In parent co-operatives, the parents are required to work regular workshifts alongside a few professional preschool teachers, and at the co-ops we know, the children are led to call the working parents by their first names (although, as Iris was a more memorable personality at her preschool, the other little kids there often tended to call me "Iris's mommy", which was fine by me).

It's easy to read Iris: when she wants to suck up to me, she calls me "Mommy" or by a cute nickname (currently she likes to call me "Flatfoot" affectionately), and when she doesn't, she calls me "Carole." I find this a useful barometer. On the other hand, Lola, a product of the same liberal San Francisco co-op preschool environment, calls us "Mommy" and "Daddy" almost exclusively.

Even in San Francisco, it's shocking to some to hear a child use an adult's first name. We've had numerous double takes and appalled looks over the years. Possibly the most judgmental on this point was an elderly artist, owner of a house we went to see when we were looking for a larger home. This house was probably at some point in time a beautiful house of the sort sometimes called Rousseauvian, with a weird little courtyard so small as to be unusable for more than a light well, and strangely shaped rooms. It was all quite filthy and in bad repair, but so large and in such a great location, and I was imagining what it could be.... until I found the tampon. There was a dried out used tampon next to one of the beds, and irrational as it may seem, the house was thereafter The Old Dried-Up Tampon House and I just wanted to flee. Anton argued with me that it was "a piece of art", but I said, "I know art and I know tampons. That is a tampon." As we were leaving, Iris called my attention to something, and the owner, who was supervising our showing to the real estate agents' palpable dismay, said, "Did she just call you 'Carole'?" She sniffed judgmentally and looked down her nose. "Is she two? And she calls you 'Carole'?" Whatever, old hag, at least no one's going to find used tampons lying around in my house, was my thought.


Anonymous said...

My rule has always been, "Call me anything you want, just don't call me late for dinner"
BTW I have redone the Pain of Parenting post.
Also for what it's worth, Moonrabbit and I are childless, although she was a teacher and principal.(and had to live with me)

Anonymous said...

Doesn't "momo" mean cow in japanese? I love it. If my daughter called me Momo I'd call her Piggy. Then we could be farm animals together and Daddy could be a farmer. We could name him, "Farmer Ted" and bother him to feed us constantly. "SLOP TIME" we will squeel while he is doing something important, and then we will tackle him.

But anyway.

When I'm in a good mood I call my dad, "DooDa" which I invented in elementry school. Or "Daddy" sometimes, when I am in a good mood and want to talk about something 'grown up'.

I call my mom, "Mom". I only call her "Mommy" when I am calling her through out the house and can't find her. Sometimes I will shout, "MOM. MOM. MOMMY. MOM. MOMMY. MOMMYMOMMYMOMMY MOM!!" which make me giggle by the time I find here and she is looking annoyed.

I would never call them by their names, they would cry or something. They are both extremly emotional.

When I was little I called my grandma "Gramcracker", but I don't do it as often now. Sometimes I want to call her "My sweet little Lillybean grandmapants" (her name is lilly), but I don't. My grandpa was, "Granpa."

Anonymous said...

I tried to get my children to call me by my first name because I thought it was cool. Sadly they rebelled and both call me Mummy. Secretly, though I rather like it because they've done it through choice. I think it probably has more to do with the way parents refer to each other when speaking to the children. Their dad would say 'go and give this to Mummy' so I guess they picked it up that way.

And yes, there are a lot of things much worse than allowing your child to call you by your name!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the post, "flatfoot".


Anonymous said...

I find it just short of wonderous that you yet live.

And Iris scares me. I can't imagine the terror of parenting her through her teens.

Anonymous said...

I call my mother by her first name when I'm parenting her, telling her something she should know. I have been known to call her "Momma-llama-ding-dong" on special moments.

I'd call it The Tampon House too.

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