A mommy by any other name would still smell like spit-up
(This is not the Dull and Pedantic Post that I warned about in my last post. No, this is an entirely new Pedantic Post that may, in fact, also be Dull. And Long. LOOOONG. Consider yourself warned.)
(But! There are pictures!)
The debate about what Women-Who-Are-Mothers-Who-Not-So-Incidentally-Blog should call themselves rages on. Apparently, to refer to one’s blogger self as a Mommy is, in some circles, considered jejune. Mommies, after all, are not taken seriously, and so any blogger looking for a serious audience ought to avoid the sticky taint of such a juvenile term and refer to themselves as Mom, Mother or Parent.
To be honest, my reaction when this topic first hit my blogdar was: you’re kidding me, right? RIGHT? Who (expletive, expletive) cares? And then, more expletives, sotto voce.
But then I gave it a second thought, in part because other literate and thoughtful WWAMWNSIBs had something to say about it, and I pay attention to literate and thoughtful people. (Not so much to ignorant dipshits, but then I try to avoid such persons as much in the blogosphere as I do in real life.) Why does it matter what we call ourselves?
I'm not fully certain why it matters to the blogging public, although I agree with others that it has something to do with securing respect in the public space that is the parenting blogosphere. There's weight attached to the terminology used in parenting, and the names that we use to identify ourselves as parents carry a tremendous share of that weight. In an environment where language is the primary means of identifying and characterizing ourselves and our peers, what we call ourselves takes on an enormous significance. You don't like women who call themselves mommies? You might not like me, then, even if you've never read a word of my blog. Does that matter to me? Absolutely.
But beyond its obvious relevance to my desire to be liked (please oh please, blubber), why does this matter to me? And why do I call myself what I do?
What I said today at Kristen’s site, in a comment to her thoughtful post on the topic:
I’m still trying to figure out what my thoughts are on this subject. In part, I think, because I am still trying to figure out my thoughts on being called a mommy, a mom, a breeder or whatever. At 4 months, Baby isn’t calling me anything yet, but I imagine that when she does it will be ‘Mommy.’ (If she calls me ‘Mother’ immediately, or refers to me by my given name, I'll take that as just weird.) So I usually think of my new identity as Mommy. But I’m sensitive to it being perceived as less serious than other identities I might have.
And I’ve also spent far too long in academia to be insensitive to the Politics of Naming. In fact, I would say that I am now so sensitive to such politics that I develop a rash when exposed. I once participated in a meeting at the university to discuss the formation of a women’s caucus within our department. The entire meeting was spent debating whether it would be alienating to women to even call the group a caucus because, you know, COCK-US. The penile reference might Intimidate and undermine the Inclusivity of the Group. I never went back.
I’ve gone a little off-track here. What I wanted to get across was the following: a) I usually get hives and so run off in pursuit of salve when the politics of language rears its ugly head, but b) I recognize that it *can* be a part of important and necessary discussions… It is in this case (important and necessary, that is), because what we call ourselves as mothers has everything to do with how we identify ourselves as mothers, and that happens both individually and collectively…
So how do I identify myself? That question is so loaded for me that it almost put me off writing this post. The fast, dirty and painful answer is that I have very little idea who I am in this new life. I've addressed the question of my greater existential turmoil elsewhere, and will no doubt do so again (because I know that you all burn, burn to read about it.) But what I can say, right now, is this: I’m a Mommy. For now, for today, for better or for worse, I. Am. A. Mommy.
Ceci n'est pas une Mother
Why not Mom, Mother or Parent? I do use those terms, sometimes. But not often, because they all carry connotations that don’t, or don’t yet, comfortably apply to me.
Why not Mom? It’s what I call my own mother. I view it as indicative of a greater maturity in one’s role as the maternal parent, and also of a more mature relationship between parent and child. Or of a completely immature relationship that has nonetheless advanced to later stages (as in ‘gawd, MOM, stop embarrassing me!’ spat through the braces of a livid 14-year-old.) Some day I’ll be a Mom. But I’m not there yet. It may be the case that calling myself a Mom would earn me more respect as a parent or as a blogger. But, again – Not There Yet.
Why not Mother? This is more complicated. The maturity issue, referred to above, obviously applies here. But there's more to it than that. I refer to myself on this blog as Her Bad Mother, and not Her Bad Mommy (the Google hits would be too disturbing, and in any case, there’s a story behind HBM), but the 'Bad' detracts from the seriousness of 'Mother.' This, obviously, is part of the intent of the moniker. Although I am A Mother, I cannot refer to myself simply as ‘Mother’ with a straight face. And, not without thinking about nuns, the movie ‘Psycho,’ and expletive-laden hyphenations. I can talk about motherhood, mothering, and about being Her Mother and a mother generally, so long as we’re sticking to the abstract third-person. But I can’t call myself Mother, at least not as a proper name. And I can’t imagine my own daughter ever calling me Mother in anything other than a voice of outright exasperation.
Why not Parent? I don't really mind the term 'parent' to describe myself. It's safe, I'll say that. I use it in discussions with my doctor and other professional support persons. But 'parent,' to me, has the same feel as the term ‘partner,’ when used to describe a husband, wife, co-breeder, whatever. It’s devoid of any personality. It tells me nothing about the person being described. Which is, I suppose, the point. But I’m not entirely comfortable with de-gendering parent roles: parenthood is gendered, even when it’s Dad at home and Mom at work and/or when Daddy is the softie pushover and Mommy the hard-ass and/or whatever. Fathers are boys and mothers are girls, and this is true even when there are two of either in one household. But that’s a whole other post.
I like knowing whether the person at hand is male or female, and – here’s the rub – whether they describe themselves as Mommy/Daddy, Mom/Dad or Mother/Father. Even if our respective understandings of those terms differ, your use of one or the other or all of them tells me something about you. Not, I want to stress, as fodder for the Great Filter of Judgment – my preferred fodder for the Filter are demonstrations of stupidity, extreme illiteracy and blatant disregard for norms of civility. (And maybe, also, acid-washed denim. And camel toes.) I’ll always make every effort to avoid judging a parent by how they refer to themselves. We all have our reasons for identifying ourselves the way that we do. The interesting question is, why? Why do you call yourself a Mommy? A Dad? A Bitch with Baby? A Dude with Diaper Bag?
Right now I usually refer to myself as a Mommy. ‘Mommy’ resonates with me because it connotes immaturity. I am absolutely an immature mother. I’ve never done this before. New motherhood baffles me, so I can’t pretend to be anything other than a total neophyte. ‘Mommy’ also resonates with me because this stage of parenthood strikes me as a profoundly ridiculous enterprise. Not ridiculous in the sense of unimportant, but ridiculous in the classical sense of inspiring laughter (following the Latin ridere, to laugh). It's silly. I’m tripping all over myself as I find my mother-legs, and this is a silly, risible thing to behold. It’s clumsy, crazy, goofy Seussian parenting and I’m not going to – can’t – cloak it in a veil of seriousness. So I refer to myself the way my immediate live audience would, and will, refer to me – as Mommy. Say it with a giggle.
If you’ve looked at more than one post on my blog, you’ll know that I sometimes mock my own Mommyness. But you'll know too, I hope, that I also take that Mommyness very seriously. I hope that you’ll take me seriously. But to do this, I think, you have to appreciate that I am, and why I am, a Mommy.
I’ll do the same for you, whatever you call yourself.
And! Thanks to the super and amazing Blog Makeover Diva for the fantabulous makeover of Bad Mother Headquarters! Check her out!