Just Don’t Call Me Mama.
“Don’t call me Mama.”
I smiled when I said it, but I looked him directly in the eye so he would know I was serious.
Justin, seated next to me, shifted uncomfortably in his chair. I knew I’d done the exact thing he’d been hoping I wouldn’t do. In retrospect the faux pas was inevitable, given my outspoken personality, and it was only a matter of time until I exposed my general lack of regurgitative compliance with how a military spouse was expected to behave. Justin and I had only been married for a few months, but there was no point in dipping my demeanor in a vat of candied sprinkles — not even for the man who would potentially become Justin’s new Commander.
We were having breakfast, and Colonel Cox* (*name changed) seemed friendly enough. I sat there while he peppered Justin with questions and tidbits of information about the elective position he’d be filling. This was unusual for the military. It was an optional position — one for which Justin had to pass a series of interviews and psychological testing to even qualify, and meeting the new boss was the final step in what had been a tumultuous decision-making process for both parties. I’d been surprised I was invited to the out-of-state meeting, but this was a “family decision,” the Colonel insisted, and one we had to make together while knowing relatively little information about the job or its ramifications.
To say I was edgy would be an understatement.
So while Justin and the Colonel spent breakfast talking in acronyms and code, I sat quietly, practically demure, and worried about stepping out of line. Until Cox addressed me directly.
“So what does Little Mama think about all this?” He smiled, and the crows feet around his eyes creased deeply when he did it. He appeared to be genuine, trying to be friendly, and his question warranted a genuine response.
“Don’t call me Mama.” I laughed and took a sip of my O.J.
It was out before I could think about it. I would have told this man not to call me “Mama” in the years before I’d been a military spouse, and there was no reason that had to change after. My words were not a sign of disrespect, as some might jump to conclude, but rather a request for it. The challenge dripped between us like a thick coat of latex paint. No one wanted to touch it. I could sense Justin’s urge to wipe it smooth, but he wasn’t sure what to say. So Cox silently assessed me. It only took a moment, but I’m sure to Justin it felt much longer.
The Colonel smiled, and then laughed. There wasn’t a single hint of hidden condescension in his response. “What does Katie think about all of this?” he corrected.
So I smiled back, and I told him.
It had only taken a few direct words, a few strenuous seconds, but I’d unwittingly set a precedent for my role throughout the remainder of Justin’s career. And it wasn’t one of a stay-at-home Air Force mom.
It turns out we’d all be waiting another 11 years for that hilarious twist.
That’s right, kids. Justin and I finally decided to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid back in October, and we are now the soon-to-be proud, exhausted, sour-milk smelling parents of a bouncing baby girl. (Suffice to say, I’ve changed a bit since this post.)
We’re fairly certain she has 2 X chromosomes because even I could identify the tiny labia in the ultrasound. I know she’ll be bouncing because it often feels as though she’s doing calisthenics in my uterus. But that, really, is about all I know. I’m quickly finding out that the rest of this pregnancy business is a slowly-evolving crapshoot. And sometimes I even mean that in the literal sense.
Now that I’m 24 weeks pregnant (I swear that’s not pretention — they train you to count everything in weeks), I’ve been struggling with something I imagine many moms-to-be struggle with — especially those of us who had been fairly ambivalent about having children:
How do I keep this new thing about myself from becoming the only thing people see?
No, really. How?
I’ve been inundated with “bump” photo requests ever since we quietly began to make it known I was “with child,” hence the awkward selfies above. This is how we made the announcement social media official a couple of days ago. Basically I told people I’d eaten too much brie over the winter, and this is why taking a photo from the proper angle is so important.
As well-meaning as all of the bump requests are, I don’t think it will ever stop feeling weird to me when anyone other than a pre-deployment Justin asks for photos of my body. Curiosity is natural, and I’m honestly flattered when friends and family ask how I’m feeling or want to see how my body is changing. I’m just not used to people wanting me to stand in front of the lens. And I wasn’t eager to put it out there for various reasons — the biggest (and most selfish, perhaps) is that I don’t quite feel ready to be only a mom in the eyes of the world.
Or maybe, if I’m being honest, I don’t want to be only a mom in the eyes of myself.
In my own eyes?
In the mental image of my inner eyeballs?
You know what I mean.
I’ve also built quite the network of fun and interesting child-free friends over the years, and a part of me is afraid I’ll lose them beneath a pile of baby-related concerns or that they’ll feel like I’m abandoning them for the realm of super-absorbed parenthood. And it would be naive to think I’m not going to change a little, that foremost in my mind won’t be the survival of this dependent little creature, but also I’m still going to be me, guys. Just with, you know, a baby. And bigger breasts. And possibly a smashing new wide-set vagina.
So trying to wrap my head around all of that while absorbing as much as I can about how to be a good parent and figuring out how this whole birthing thing works and sorting through the mountain of baby and maternity hand-me-downs we’ve been gifted from friends and family (seriously — if there’s one advantage to waiting until your mid-thirties to have a kid, aside from your prenatal caregivers consistently referring to you as “geriatric,” it’s all of the free stuff parents of older children want to unload on you!) has occupied much of my mental space as of late. That, and questions like:
How much is my life about to change?
Will we still be able to afford to travel?
Will we WANT to travel?
Will I still have time to work and write when there’s a baby in the house?
Will I still have time to work and write when there’s a TODDLER in the house?
How do I keep my kid from becoming a picky eater?
How will I deal when she tells me she hates me?
Why am I getting this intense pain in the upper right side of my back?
What the hell is that in my underwear?
Do I really need a Mamaroo/Babocush/PackNPlay/BabyGym, or can I just dangle a cat toy over the kid and call it a day?
And that’s not even the half of it.
But all of these things are things we’ll figure out as we go. And in the meantime I can continue to strive to still be me. If the Colonel could accept that fact, then so can everyone else. In the years that followed that initial conversation, I’d hear some of the wives complaining about Cox’s condescending remarks, and I’d tell them — while it’s not okay for someone to assert the identity he’s assumed for you, it’s certainly okay for you to correct him when he does. I’d never had a problem with him after that first conversation because he couldn’t claim ignorance about how I felt.
I’m going to be a mom, and hopefully a decent one. But I’m still going to ask that you don’t call me Mama. It’s a head thing.