We talked to the kids this weekend, letting them know that Gail will be calling me Ezekiel and switching pronouns.
We got a lot of pushback from our older child, Leigh, almost 6. When the subject came up, out of the blue, several weeks back, she made her desire that I remain the same abundantly clear. But since then, she’s asked lots of good questions, and seemed to be more open, even to the extent of suggesting that maybe I need a new name. But when faced with the reality, she pushed back, and hard. She ‘corrected’ Gail all day and very pointedly referred to me by my given name, a name she has basically never called me (as to her I have always been “Mama”). That was Sunday. It was hard. It’s one thing to ask this of close adult friends, and entirely another of my children.
Gail and I did great. We stayed positive. We let her have whatever reaction she needed to have but didn’t pander or apologize profusely or take it back. When she was suddenly open to talking later in the afternoon, we got her on the phone with our friends who understand this stuff, including a J’s kid, who is her age. We really did well, but it was still really hard.
But as things do so often, little conversations happened here and there, the kids talked with Gail, they talked with me, they heard Gail call me Ezekiel with ease. They stopped telling her not to.
Then, the kids, together, hatched a plan to call me Aba. Ira (barely 3) had said something to Gail on Sunday night like “I thought I have a new name to call Mama” and she had said, well, you could call him ‘Aba’ if you want (hebrew for dad, common in our group of friends, and a nice complement to A’s longstanding title as “Ima”). A similar brief mention went by for Leigh but we didn’t push it at all. But then, together, yesterday morning, the kids decided they wanted to call me Aba, and after work/school yesterday, Leigh burst in the door saying “Aba Aba!” and both kids persisted through the evening. Sometimes switching back and forth to Mama, but often catching themselves, and seeming to thoroughly enjoy the new parental title. This morning, as I left early for my train, they said “Goodbye Aba!” as if it were perfectly normal.
Maybe it is. Or will be.
This all happened in the span of roughly 48 hours.
It felt awesome to have them call me Aba. Instead of feeling that looming question-mark every time they’ve called me “Mama,” I felt really happy. I felt more present with them, and so relieved to see how relaxed they were about the name, how speaking to me as Aba seemed to help them settle into this new part of our reality as a family.
I also noticed though, that the sudden stark absence of “Mama” was a little jarring. I fought hard to be Leigh’s Mama. Gail and I both did a whole hell of a lot of work to make sure that we were both central in her life, that we were not accidentally defaulting to a norm where the mom who gives birth (in this case, Gail) is the primary parent and the other is more of a “back-up” (a pretty common pattern for two-mom families, it works for some, but really was not going to fly for us). I pushed hard to be “Mama,” to both be and be publicly recognized as a primary parent, to this baby/kid that I did not birth, to be her mom. So when Leigh calls me Aba, I remember all that work, how good it felt when she started to call me “Mama,” how much that was part of the secure place I built in our family as Gail and I were first working out this whole queer parenting business.
With Ira, I feel something a little different. This is the baby that I bore and nursed. He still says “Mama” with a certain reverential quality. He’s so little, and still very physically connected to us, and in particular, I think, to me. In the right mood, he’s so snuggly, he climbs up on my lap after a nap and seems so content, looking up at me all lovelorn, and whispering “Mama.” That’s what the name conjures up for me with him. I know I can be that snuggly and close with him as his Aba. Maybe even more so, since I maybe I won’t be thinking “Oh, crap” every time he addresses me. But still, with him, “Mama” means babyhood, and that physical closeness. I already see that fading with him (I am far more willing to carry him that Gail is, just to keep it a little bit longer), and stepping away from the name “Mama” feels a bit like ushering the last remnants out the door.
But, at home at least, and among our close friends, it looks like maybe I’ll get to be Aba. Perhaps even more than the name and pronouns, that feels like it hits right at my core. For now, seeing the ease in my kids, and feeling it in me, how happy I am when they say it, feels like a surprise bonus gift. We weren’t pressing for it, we weren’t sure if it was going to fit, we weren’t asking it of them, just open to it. And now here we are. Just like that.