Monday, September 25, 2006

More Name Games




I am writing this despite the fact that the people about whom I will be discussing may (or may not) read this. Frankly, I wish I could just say this to their face, but I am nearly always caught off guard in the situations I am about to describe and become an utter flibertygibbit.

So, the other day I saw some good friends of ours; a lesbian couple with a daughter. They are extremely nice and friendly and I think we would see much more of them if we lived closer. They also really care about us, and are culturally a bit more forward than us upper-midwestern types, so they, well let's just say that they cut right through the bull and get to the meat of the matter.

One of them: So, what will he call you?

Me (proudly): "Baba!"

The other of them, judgementally and clearly ignoring my obvious happy and excited response: WHAT? What about "Mom"?

This sort of thing happens regularly with them and, frankly, with many lesbian couples with whom we come into contact. I don't think any straight person has EVER asked me what the kids will call me. Only lesbians seem interested in this. Not just interested, it is as if they have some sort of stake in what the kids call me. As if, somehow, our movement depends on it.

I have blogged many times elsewhere on the topic (see for example, the first entry, and here, and here) and have come to some conclusions that have evolved over time.

To begin, because I met the SYO when she was 16 months, we decided that we would let her decide what to call me. I was and am so simply giddy to just be a part of their lives, that it still just doesn't matter to me much at all. And if there is anything I've learned, it is that the label doesn't make the parent.

She began by calling me by my first name. This evolved through several permutations including calling BioMom by her first name (to BioMom's parents and siblings' dismay).

Now she generally uses the terms "Mom", "Mommy", or "Mama" to refer to either of us. Frankly, we find this quite confusing and during the day, I suppose, we each respond to her or look to her for clarification. In the dead of night we each bury our head in our pillows and hope she is referring to the other!

Most of our lesbian-couple friends have their kids use some version of "Mom" and "Mama".

I think this is most confusing for the kids themselves and not within the household, but when they are out in the world, referring to their family. My experience is that these kids whose parents are so particular about what they are to be called often resort to their parents actual names while in public just because it is easier. How else can their teachers, friends or friend's parents know which individual about whom they are referring?

Ironically, the child of the couple to which I referred to above does this to me, calling her parents by their first names. I asked her why she did this and she said (in her four-year-old vernacular) that she was just trying to be clear. I asked if her parents were okay with her calling them by their first names. She said they were not.

Now, on to "Baba". As I have posted, BioMom and I have come to the realization that when dealing with a baby, you can't just wait and see what they will call you as there are a gazillion opportunities to refer to the other person:

"Mama is coming home!"

"There is Mom!"

"Where's Mommy?"

Hence, we needed an identifier.

Lifting the logic and cuteness from Lesbiandad.net, we chose "Baba."

There you have it.

12 comments:

thistles said...

We're a heterosexual couple and our daughter calls both of us mama. So maybe they're gonna call you what they're gonna call you no matter what!

Jen said...

Being a non-bioMom myself, I feel your frustration. I would also like to be called Baba when the little one arrives. Not because I don't consider myself his/her mommy but because I want a special connection with the little bean. I think it is a connection that I can have with our child that my partner gets from birthing and breast feeding the kid.

If the kid cries out in the middle of night and wants a certain one of us, I want to be able to tell who he/she wants. Ya know?

I honestly think that it can be easily taught to the kid as well. There are many opportunities in which our parental names will be used. It seems that it should be even LESS confusing to the kid.

Stand firm, my fellow Baba. I'm glad you're as excited about it as I am. :)

Polly P said...

'Aloo, comrade! I am a raggedy correspondent/commenter, but had to resurface to give you a hearty "Here, here!" As with so much of our (non-bio, lesbo, gender non-normative) parenthoods, the depth of the topic far exceeds the bounds of a wee note. Yet & still, one must try.

I agree with Thistle above that kids'll call us what they will. But I also agree with your point in the post, that the naming functions nearly as much to indicate our different roles/selves to people outside the confines of our homes.

I've used "Baba" as my moniker for the entirety of our #1 kid's short 2-yr. life so far, and interestingly, she sometimes lapses to "Mama," but only seemingly accidentally, like how I used to call the name of the one dog when I meant the other. She always corrects herself to "Baba," and it totally fits. Not Mama, not Papa, but a lil' bit of both.

There's no doubt that we will always encounter challenges with this neologizing. That's because the very thing we are is novel, relatively speaking. But language, I firmly believe, matters: it is the ice-breaker at the prow of the ship, in many ways. Soldier on, sister!

Cousin's Mom said...

So - is "flibbertigibbet" an actual word???

Tee Hee!!

giddings said...

Thanks for the comments all! I was thinking today more of "Baba" and I think there is one thing about it that is a wee bit strange as compared to the more regular "Mom" and "Dad". The thing is that "Mom" and "Dad" are more than names, they are also THINGS as in "My Dad" or "I have a Mom and a Dad". So, even though Big may CALL me "Baba", he will probably say, "I have two 'Moms'" to the rest of the world.

Maybe if enough of us use "Baba" we will become a THING too!

Polly P said...

Basically, WHAT YOU SAID!

I think about this a lot: Mama and Papa are both descriptors and diminutives, or personal names, or what have you. And Baba, while it is diminutive for father (or directly, the main word for father) in other languages than English, is not widely used here, at least among native English speakers. So it floats as a bit of an open signifier, I think, linguistically speaking.

But. The thing about it--that the name begs a little explaining, for most people--for me is one of the things that helps, especially when it's me talking. I can do the explaining, and want to, since I do feel like it helps explain the kind of unique position I'm in, parentally.

When the kid(s) get to the point when they convey their parents to the world, it's a different thing. I expect that the most expedient and sensible thing will definitely be for her (and, later, her brother) to say that she has two moms. Though right now she probably would say that she has a mama and a baba, not two moms. Sigh. As others have said, it often feels like we're laying down the road directly in front of us as we go along, and the last thing I want to do is lead her toward a pothole.

I like to think that one day my little monkey could, when she felt like it, choose to say I have a Mama and a Baba. Thinking that folks might understand, and if they don't, she'll have made the decision to be interested in explaining how a Baba is a special kind of Mama. Meanwhile, I definitely think that's a lot of my job right now: to clear as much of the path as I can, before she gets there, so she'll have a little less underbrush, and a few more tools.

giddings said...

A BROTHER!!!!!!!!!!!! Polly -- I suspected as much when, in your posts, you would refer to "your first" etc. But didn't want to ask! CONGRATULATIONS!!!! When is the due date?

giddings said...

Cousin's Mom:
I still owe you a nickel for that one!
-L

Polly P said...

Thank you oh so much for the hearty congrats!

Boy child is due mid-January. (He's as yet unnamed: any suggestions? I'm threatening to go with "Alphonse" until we come up with anything better.)

I have a TON to learn about: (a) parenting two kids simultaneously, esp. w/ one still in diapers; (b) trusting I can love #2 as much as I love #1 (everyone says your heart just grows, but I still worry); and (c) parenting a boy child, when my personal experience has been as a former girl child. An abbie-normal one, to be sure, but a girl child nonetheless.

As to worry (c), I take heart that neither of my parents offered me a direct role model for the gender that I am, and I turned out just fine--basically turned out eventually to be myself. And we live in a pretty extended family--we all do, really--from which Boy Child will have a plethora of masculinities to consider drawing from, as he shapes his own. Ah, what a journey.

And you! You are bushwacking this path directly ahead of me and I'm keeping a bead on your trail, believe you me!

pollyp said...

Okay, okay, just one more teensy comment. I remember reading that The Other Mother blogger gal is called Baba, so I dug up her post talking directly about this.

Voila, What to Call 2 Moms.

Interestingly, her angle into the name was via the Russian nickname for grandmother (shortened, easier-to-pronounce form of "babushka"). My angle into it was via the diminutive for father in German (one quarter of my ethnic heritage). A commenter to the Other Mother piece noted, too, that it's the word for father in Chinese (Mandarin I know for sure). I'd list the other ten languages for which it's the main or a major word for father, but then this wee note would be too big.

I do think it's pretty intriguing that in our own sub/culture, it could evolve to mean our kind of parent. Whoever "we" are. (Ever mindful not to presume. As in the riff off of The Lone Ranger:

LR: "Tonto, we're surrounded!"
T: "What do you mean 'we,' kemosabe?")

pi said...

I've been reading your blog for several months-- ever since learning that my partner is pregnant. In a fit of procrastination, I've been reading through your archives and came upon this and the other name related posts. While we still are trying to determine what our little nugget will call me, it's ever comforting to read the stories that you and other non-bio moms write in your various blogs. Thanks for providing some signposts for those of us just embarking on the journey.

giddings said...

Hi Pi!
Welcome and congratulations! I have to say, now, 25 months into our second little "experiment" and about 6 months of living with him calling me "Baba" on a full-time basis, that I am LOVING it! It is darling to have my "own" name, and it is a really nice one. I think that it does get reactions from people outside of the family and, I think, that some people assume that Baba does not equal "parent" but, frankly, I don't give a damn!

Thanks for your comment!
-Lisa