August 11, 2010

Mommy Dearest

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , at 6:28 am by autismmommytherapist

We’ve reached a major milestone in the McCafferty household. Apparently, my youngest son is all grown up now, and I am no longer his mommy.

I’m just his mom.

It may seem like splitting hairs here, but the child is only three after all. I can clearly remember back when I was conducting the fertility wars how much I longed to hear the word “mommy” directed at me from someone actually related to me, rather than from a friend’s offspring or the out of the mortified mouth of one of my fifth graders (always a boy). After Justin was diagnosed with autism and it became clear he might never speak, I wondered if we’d have the energy to adopt a child, if I’d ever have the good fortune to be blessed with that monacre appropriately. When my husband and I fulfilled that longtime cliché of IVF couples who follow the test-tube child with an unplanned natural conception I knew I had a second chance, and I waited eagerly for my “mama”. Eventually it came, morphed into “mommy”, and I had the opportunity to hear it every day, all day, over, and over, and over again.

Be careful what you wish for.

The truth is, while it was wonderful to have one of my children actually prove capable of calling for me  (coincidentally “mama” was one of the few words Zach retained when he regressed, smart boy), hearing those repetitive syllables didn’t end up being the pinnacle of my parenthood career. It was a lovely occurrence, and still is, but in his own way Justin says “mama” to me every day, either attempting to formulate the truncated sounds with his lips, or simply beckoning to me with his eyes. As it turns out being summoned vocally carried with it a feeling of deja vue, for I felt I’d already been graced with this staple of mommyhood for years with my firstborn. It was nice to hear, but not necessary for me to feel complete in my caregiver role.

And now, just two short years after my first exposure to the sounds I so coveted in my pre-child days, I’ve been “downgraded” to the far more mature “mom”, and as my youngest and last child approaches his three-and-a-half year mark it is clear to me my baby days are over, toddler years permanently behind me. For some reason, this incredibly grown-up appellation saddens me, which is ironic because I found I really began to enjoy my children the most when they hit pre-school age. It wasn’t so long ago that I was having semi-serious conversations with good friends about engaging in “child share”, in which they would raise my infants, and I’d take their offspring for the pre-teen years, my preferred milieu.

Trust me, during a few of those conversations, we both considered the swap.

It has finally occurred to me that I now understand why some of my friends get misty-eyed at their children’s birthday parties, particularly after the “store has closed”, and they know they are forever finished with pregnancy, late night feedings, and that miraculous smell at the base of a baby’s neck that could never be bottled. Each of Justin’s birthdays has been just pure celebration for me, because for the most part every year has brought him new skills, a lessening of the more severe symptoms of autism that have plagued him since birth, and an increase in his inherent happy nature. The older he gets the more at peace he is, and I cannot pretend to long for the sleepless nights and interminable crying sessions of his infancy. He was a cute kid to cuddle, but at the end of the day I prefer our own separation of church and state, his ability to regulate his own emotions without being held throughout the entirety of the day, and often the night.

But that’s just me.

Zachary however is a different story, and I fear on his fourth birthday, which I feel is the mile marker which signifies the advent of a fully human child, I will be a muddled mess. I’ve already begun to miss a little of the boy who could only stifle his occasional sadness through a hug rather than his current technique of talking himself through a problem logically. I admit I long a little for the child who couldn’t bear to be separated from his parents (except when with his favorite babysitter, for whom he’d abandon us both in a heartbeat), and bear a wistful remembrance for the son who always chose to be nearby rather than amusing himself apart from us. On his next birthday, I will probably need a third glass of the good pinot grigiot.

And as I write these words, it occurs to me that I am truly experiencing these transitions for the very first time, and all is as it should be. I am lucky. Zach is lucky.

With this particular child, it appears I’m going to have to learn how to say goodbye.


  1. LZ said,

    Watching them grow, and gain in their independence…it is both exhilarating and heartbreaking. Just wait until they get to be taller than you. My oldest is not quite there yet, but it won’t be much longer before I have to look up to make eye contact. And then it will only be a matter of time before he thinks he is ready to leave the nest. Ouch.

    • Trust me, Justin’s getting close to that height. Not difficult to manage when mom’s only 5’2″…

  2. Amy said,

    I know! ( I have pleaded with my kids not to call me ‘mom’ – not until they are adults – I want to always be ‘mommy’)

  3. Carolyn said,

    I have always been “Mom” to my three daughters, but about a year and a half ago, my 23 yr old daughter started calling me “Momma”. What? Go figure. Maybe she picked up while living in Europe or when she was living among her foreign student roommates at college? She can’t explain it!

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