Mama Non Grata

This is an oldie but a goodie — I had to take it down temporarily, so am now re-posting.

In December, I took a business trip. And when I came back, Rowan liked Rachel better than he liked me.

At first, I enjoyed the shift. As the birth- and breast-feeding mom, I’d had 25 months of milky baby love, toddler devotion. When Rowan was hurt, he wanted me. When he was sleepy, he wanted me. He brought me his toys and books. He climbed into on my lap while we sat at the table, and held onto my leg when he wasn’t sure about a new situation. As for Rachel, well, she was great, too, but, she just wasn’t me.

But now, I could sit quietly and read the newspaper on a Saturday morning while Rowan insisted that Rachel read stacks of books to him, that Rachel play trains, that Rachel change his diaper, carry him upstairs, bathe him, put him to bed. “Night night!” he’d say cheerily, literally pushing me away and turning to Rachel. I could eat my dinner in peace without a two-year-old climbing into my lap or trying to pull me out of my chair — “Mommy get up!” I could wander around by myself at the weekly farmer’s market, sampling Gouda and local elk sausage, without hefting around 35 pounds of clingy toddler. I was freer than I had been in two years, and I welcomed the space.

Becoming second-best also meant that I had the profound pleasure of watching Rachel and Rowan together, the two of them cuddling on the couch, rolling out Play-Doh at the dining room table, snuggled up reading stories in bed. I was used to only fleeting glimpses of these tableaux, spoiled by my entering the room, drawing Rowan to me like baby moth to Mama flame, leaving Rachel in the shadows. Their beauty was, and is, astonishing, and I savoured it.

Ironically — or not — it was around this time that Rowan's names for us finally solidified. Unlike many of the other lesbian parents we knew, we had never sorted out whether one of us would be “Mama” and the other “Mommy.” We never made up cute nicknames for ourselves, like “Mama S” and “Mommy R.” Some women we knew had opted for cultural or linguistic variations on the word “mother,” like the Hebrew “Imah” or the Spanish “Mami,” but none of those felt right. We didn’t worry about it. Instead, we figured that Rowan would come up with his own names for his moms. “Kids are smart,” we said. “He’ll figure it out.”

And he did. After hearing his whole life us saying versions of, “This mommy is cooking — ask other mommy to put your shoes on,” or, “This mommy will read you one more book, and then your other mommy will take you upstairs for bed,” he now calls us — quite sensibly — “This Mommy” and “Other Mommy.”

Guess who’s Other Mommy?

At least, mercifully, he eventually shortened it to “Uh-Mommy,” or “Uh-mum,” which actually sounds quite sweet — if you don’t know what it means.

But I know what it means. And while being Mama non Grata has its perks, especially now that I am 37 weeks pregnant with baby number two and can use all the breaks I can get, little stings quite as much as my crying toddler pushing me away because he wants his This Mommy. Suddenly, I’m on the outside, the fifth wheel at the playdate.

I know: it’s what Rachel put up with for two years with barely a complaint. I know it’s what she’ll put up with again, in all likelihood, with the second one. I know I’ll have my hands full what with nursing and sleep deprivation and the like, and that when this new baby arrives it will be even more important for Rowan to have a healthy attachment to his other parent. And I know that it’s all just a phase — Rowan has already shifted to a more neutral ground, and he will shift again and again.

But I guess, somehow, I never really imagined that this “phase” would last more than a few days, or that Rowan would ever really reject me, for Rachel or anyone else. Even when it’s tiring, and overwhelming, there’s something immensely gratifying about being the centre of a child’s life. I was ready for a break, but I wasn’t ready to give up that privilege in its entirety.

It was bound to happen eventually, I keep telling myself. And it will only, properly, continue. But for now I am revelling in every walk where Rowan holds my hand, every morning-time cuddle, my nights to sing him to sleep. Maybe the fact that it’s not a sure thing is what makes his pure affection that much sweeter.