Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Name calling

I managed to offend an Aussie mum today.

When I picked up Ellie at school, her joined-at-the-hip friend was standing with her at the door, watching her own mum and I approach. She gleefully shouted, "Hi Mummy!" which Ellie echoed just as gleefully. I gave Ellie a cuddle and kiss and said something like, "Silly girl! I'm not your mummy! I'm the mama!"

Of course, a third mum was nearby and seemed shocked. Full of disapproval, she demanded to know if I'd really just told my daughter I was not her mummy. I told her, yes I had because I'm not; I'm a "mama". Mummy is an Aussie term, and I'm not Aussie. Wrong response. It increased her huffiness ten-fold, and she walked away, mumbling "it's used all over the world, not just Australia." My just-as-huffy response (which I was too dumb to keep to myself) was "Yes, in all Commonwealth countries, but I'm not British either. For the record, I don't want to be an American 'Mommy' either." She shook her head woefully and glanced sideways at me with undisguised distaste. Sigh.

I know it may seem puzzling why this even matters to me. Most people who don't understand it happily go by the most prevalent term in their culture. My home culture is American, but I've moved so often (every 2-4 years my entire life!) that there is no one term that seems obvious to me (even though my own mother was "Mommy" and now "Mom"). After four years in New Orleans (where Ellie was supposed to be born), I felt a strong affinity for Southern hospitality, and there it's always "mama." Living internationally now, the most multicultural term we've encountered is "mama". "Mama" just seems to fit me.
Really, truly NO OFFENSE MEANT! I did get riled by her huffiness and unfortunately fostered the incorrect anti-Aussie impression with my poorly-chosen responses, but I'm not anti-Australian or -British or -what-have-you. With all due respect to "mummies" (and "mommies") out there, I have fought to keep "Mama" and I'll keep fighting as needed. It's the name I prefer, and it's mine to keep. I'm just "Mama". That's who I want to be.


Aussie Mum said...

I'm sorry to say that I'm not all that surprised by this - Perth is a very small town and very isolated from the rest of the world. It is a great place to live and a fantastic place to bring up kids but it is a little narrow in its view of the world sometimes! You can't have everything I guess.

Anonymous said...

oh dear oh dear on so MANY levels!
So sorry you encountered huffiness and gruffiness, such an innocent remark, such a strong reaction! You can ceratinly choose to be "Mama" whenever or wherever you want. However, you did apparently unknowingly insult a "Mummy" Maybe the next time you see her you can say "Can we talk about this?" Maybe she just had a bad day, or something else was going on. If not, you can explain you did not mean to offend. Sometimes the high road is full of crows, and you have to eat them. Those of us who know you and love you would NEVER be offended by you! If this approach does not work, then just tell her your own Mama said "Bite me!" and move on. Life is too short to deal with crab apples!

NOW! I am on the computer at work because my computer at home is DEAD! I am working on getting it up and running, but I have been without it for over a week now. I have a lot of your blog to catch up on, this is the first one I read. I miss you and love you!

MAMA pride!


the dipe squad said...

Update: I did speak to the mum this morning (she isn't the Aussie Mum commenter, obviously!) and she said she wasn't at all offended, she must have come off gruffier than she meant to because she was having a bad day. Funnily enough, her husband's family is Italian, so her son calls her "Mama" when he's around them. At any rate, I just wanted to clear the air. I don't think it has anything to do with a high road (that implies one term is better than another) or eating crow (which I feel no need to do), but I don't like offending people, even inadvertently. As silly as it may be, this does tend to be a touchy issue for people, and not just here. I have had problems with this stateside too, when other women refer to me as "mommy" and I correct them or at least correct it with Ellie. People balk like I'm suggesting something is wrong with their term, but that's not it. Mom, the best way I can explain this to you is by using you as an example. You want to be "Mimi", so you'd probably don't want other people calling you "Grannie" or some such. Same thing. It's not wrong, it's not a problem per se, but it's not the name you want.

Karly said...

Oh goodness! You handled it beautifully (as always) by clearing the air and talking to the other mom. Good job, mama!! :)

schlelly said...

Oops! The trials and tribulations of living around people! I just wish I was as good as you with quick retorts to unncessary comments. I was on a very crowded metro train yesterday and was mobbed when folks were trying to get off at a popular stop. One woman's earphones got caught on my bag and she said something rude about what I should do with my bag. I was so shocked I just laughed but then thought about everything I'd wished I'd said for the rest of my trip. As I headed toward the office, I walked past a group of folks in wheelchairs and reminded myself the little things aren't important - so many people do so much more with so much less! This morning I made certain to get on a less crowded car and desperately tried harder to tame the thoughts of what I wanted tell the woman.