Monday, February 7, 2011

Call Him Mommy

Once Isaac reached three years old, I suddenly became aware of my language and temper. I remember vividly the day he said his first curse word. I was sitting on the couch watching the news while Isaac played at my feet and Laurie prepared dinner. She called out from the kitchen, “Honey, we don’t have enough potatoes for everyone.”

Isaac looked at me and said, “Dammit, we need to get some more.”

Laurie leaned her head around the corner, and we shared a look that said, “Did I hear that correctly? Did he just say that?” She came into the living room and kneeled on the floor beside him. “Isaac, what did you say?”

He responded, “We need to get some more.”

“No, but what did you say before that?”

He said nothing, just gave her a confused look. We waited for him to come up with an answer, but he clearly had no idea what he said.

“Do you think he really said it?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. Do you?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe he said, ‘Dang it.’ We say that all the time.”

Laurie rolled her eyes. “You know he didn’t say ‘Dang it.’ You say the other thing sometimes.”

“No I don’t.”

“You don’t say it all the time. But I’ve heard you say it once or twice.”

Isaac chimed in. “Are you guys fighting?” His voice was stern and authoritative—a dead-on impersonation of his mother and me.

“No, Isaac,” his mother and I said in unison.

We waited until after we put him to bed to continue the conversation. Laurie told me I needed to watch what I said around him. I said I’d already tried my hardest to phase out everything but “shoot” and “fiddlesticks” but sometimes those just didn’t do the job. I suggested he might have heard it anywhere—my parents, someone in Bible study, that kid at the playground with the Marilyn Manson T-shirt. I reminded her that he had recently learned how to operate the remote control. “Maybe he changed the channel when we weren’t in the room and heard it then.” Laurie didn’t buy any of it.

I couldn’t help but feel a little on the spot. We didn’t discuss any of the ways she was a bad influence on him. I didn’t mention his whining, crying, or constant compulsion to ask me for money. A few weeks passed before a better option would occur to me. Isaac was eating his breakfast as I was leaving for work. As his mother called to him from the next room to drink his milk, I kissed his forehead and said goodbye. He said, “Bye, Dammy. Love you.”

I turned around and asked, “What was that?”

“Oh. I mean, bye Daddy.”

I considered calling to his mother who was in the bedroom folding clothes. I wanted to tell her what he said—that the morphing of our two names sounded both humorous and blasphemous. But I thought twice about telling her. I imagined her saying, “You still need to watch what you say.”

At that point in both his and his little sister’s verbal development, I was used to being called Mommy. I tried not to let it hurt my feelings. As a stay-at-home mom, Laurie got significantly more face time with them. But at times it really bothered me. It seems like anytime I was nice or treated them in a nurturing way, they addressed me as “Mommy.” Then, one day Laurie called me at work and said, “Your son cracks me up. I just got on his case for something and he called me Daddy.”

I told her I didn’t understand.

“He was sassing me and I told him, ‘You do not talk to your mother like that. Do you understand me?’ and he said, ‘Yes, Daddy.’ Isn’t that funny?”

I thought about it for a second. When I’m nice to him, he calls me Mommy and when his mother disciplines him, he calls her Daddy. Great.

His verbal skills skyrocketed and for a while he consistently called his mom and me Dammy or Moddy. Vivi is now three and has inherited this morph. She’s so used to my leaving for work that whenever Laurie leaves the house, Vivi says, “Bye, Daddy.” While her mom is out shopping, I make dinner and, as I rush back and forth from the kitchen to the table, Vivi says, “Thank you, Mommy.”

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