Boone and me, we’re on first name terms these days, have been for a while. It’s hard to pinpoint when he started doing this but whenever it was, it was overnight. I’ve a feeling it was around the same time in his development when he started saying things like “Oh, don’t worry, it’s fiiiiiine,” and “Trust me, I know everything.” All I know is that one day he called me Mama (so sweet, so Southern) or, when he was feeling lazy, Ma (so mother of a mobster), and the next it was the name I’ve always had, the name my parents gave me, the name everyone else knows me by.
Growing up, I only knew of one family where the children called their parents by first name and even then I think it was only their father that they called Billy, a name that’s inherently diminutive and affectionate. The next time I’d come across this naming practice was watching Dharma and Greg in the late nineties. Remember Dharma? Her parents were old hippies who she called Abbey and Larry and to this day I remember Dharma’s impassioned speech about being homeschooled and how she learned about science and geography by going on a hot air balloon ride. The things I remember. Anyway, I thought that calling your parents by their first names, to their face, not behind their backs in a teenager-y tongue-in-cheek sort of way, was unusual, a bit strange.
Then one day, Boone started calling us Joseph and Siobhán, as though he’d never called us anything else. If I, out of habit, happened to refer to Joseph as “Daddy,” Boone would give me a very serious look and correct me: “Joseph.” It reminded me of when the euro first came in and the cashiers looked at you as if you were the stupidest person on earth if you slipped up and said pounds or pence, even though that was exactly how you had referred to your national currency your entire life until just last week.
“Well,” says Leah, on hearing Boone’s new nomenclature for us, “that’s . . . progressive.”
At first I was bemused because it sounded funny but this soon got mixed in with sadness as I’d really liked being called Mama. I felt unrelated. I began to panic. Will he ever call me Mama again? Tell me I have videos of him calling me Mama! I wanted to tell everyone, the general public, his teachers that say “righteo” when I tell them we’re on first name terms now, “No, no, no, you don’t understand, this wasn’t my idea!” (Although, I have to admit, it does seem like an idea I might have.)
When I tell people about this, they either look a bit heartcrushed for me, or else they jump in with an assured “it’s a phase.” Every once in a while, I’ll sense a whiff of “you’d want to nip that one in the bud,” as though it were a sign of disrespect, or permissive parenting, or both. Nobody seems to see it as a good thing.
But I like it. I like that Boone’s teachers now have to refer to me as “Siobhán,” not the universal, faceless “Mum.” I like how it makes me feel more like an integrated self, less divided between the two lives of before and after Boone. I like that by using my first name, Boone sounds self-assured, his questions more like questions than whingeing demands. I like that, if he continues this into adolescence and beyond, there won’t be a pet name to keep me static in my maternal place, that our roles might evolve to that of adult to adult more easily. I probably like it for all the same reasons as Abbey and Larry in Dharma and Greg.
Besides, it doesn’t change a thing. I’m still his mother, he’s still my son. Of course, I have to remind him of these facts from time to time and reiterate that no, he doesn’t know everything, that I am his mother and everything I do and ask of him is in the interests of his safety. Knowing Boone, I’ve a feeling I’d have to remind him of these things whether he called me Mama or not.
On Friday, I went to a “special mother’s day surprise” at Boone’s playschool. There were little chocolate cakes and heart-shaped biscuits and questionnaires the children had completed about us. Apparently, I’m five years old, my favourite food is porridge, and my favourite drink is tea. Since only one of those things is true, I decided to ask Boone the questions myself when we got home. When I got to the question “how much do you love me?,” Boone answered:
“Yes, that’s how much it costs.”
It may not seem like a lot but five is Boone’s favourite number and in his mind, five is the most, the best. I think that’s why whenever we play shops, everything Boone sells costs five euro.
I sigh and say, “Oh, Boone, I just love being your mama.” He giggles and so do I.