M is for mama

02.23.12 My most favorite word ever


I was reminded last night when I got home from work how much I love the word “mama.” Every night when I walk in the door, my son looks up from what he’s doing and says “mama.” He says it with a slight breathiness and excitement; with an emphasis on the first “ma” and the second “ma” seemingly running to catch up with the first.

My son’s first word was “dada.” I wasn’t surprised. I know that’s a very common set of sounds for a babbling baby. Plus, my husband took care of my son two days a week while I worked full time, so he had loads more time with “dada” than mama. When we read together my son would always point out the “dada” in the picture books; if we were out and about, every man (or teenage boy) we saw was a “dada,” too. Dada was soon followed by “shoes,” “dog,” “hi” and “cheese.” But “mama” didn’t come until he was 19 months old.

The first time my son said “mama,” I was picking him up from day care after work. The front room had a big picture window, so you could see the kids as you walked to the door. (If I got lucky, I could catch my son before he saw me and I would stand at the window for a few minutes watching him interact with the other kids or play with a toy by himself.) I stood there watching him jump around with his friends Andrew and Grace, and when my son finally noticed me he said “Mama!” and patted his chest with his hands as he came running toward the door. Obviously, it was amazing to hear him call me “mama” (finally!), but what was even more amazing was that he patted his chest as he said it. That was the motion he used when he wanted to nurse, so it seemed that he had associated breastfeeding with me—his mama. Sigh.

There have been loads of “mamas” since, and what’s most incredible is that at this age, they are all said with unconditional love. There are no “Mama, just drop me at the corner,” or “Mama, leave me alone,” or “Mama, I hate you!” Every single one is said with pure love or joy or excitement or need. And it doesn’t seem to matter that I can’t spend every day with my son. He still knows who his mama is. Sometimes I even get my absolute favorite: “My Mama.” If another toddler gets too close or an adult seems to be taking up too much of my time, my son will ask me to pick him up. He’ll then wrap his arm around my neck, give the toddler or adult the stink eye, and while patting the back of my shoulder with his hand, he’ll say, “Mama. My mama.” That’s right, I’m your mama. And please don’t you ever, ever forget it.

What does "mama" mean to you?