When I was little, whenever I heard my name I knew more often than not that I was in trouble. Siblings grassing me up, teachers about to give me a bollocking… and if I heard my full name? Then I knew my mum was on the warpath.
As a teenager the sound of my name outside my bedroom door on Saturday mornings would always mean one thing: her bursting in before I’d even worked out whether I was actually awake or not to ask me if I had “any plans for the day” (er, well my plan was sleeping, actually) and I had to think of something fast so she didn’t give me jobs to do. The sound of my name never accompanied “tea’s ready” or “there’s a bacon butty for you here love” – this kind of good news was always heralded by a bang on the bannister. I asked if she wanted a gong for her birthday and she said she’d gong me in a minute, and this wasn’t Upstairs Downstairs.
Even at work, hearing the sound of my name could spell the doom of being flung a short deadline or being asked to nip into a meeting room “for a chat” – wtf have I done now? Is it because they’ve finally twigged I’ve been late every day for two and a half years or is it the fact that l should have had those stats done by yesterday but I spent my time doing a snazzy colour-coded potential weight loss projection in Microsoft Excel? Either way, better minimise this River Island page while I’m away from my desk…
When Primo was born my wish was that I’d hear him cry as soon as possible. Everyone wants to hear that reassuring sound of a healthy pink little person and to know that everything is ok. As my increasingly medicalised pregnancy progressed, and at 15 days overdue I was wheeled off to theatre after four failed inductions, I knew not to expect that sound straight away as c-section babies don’t get that natural squeeze that gives their lungs a kick start. I tearfully begged the midwife “I know the baby might not cry because my fanny won’t help it breathe, so please will you let me know if it’s ok? As soon as you see it, will you let me know?”
I need not have worried. Before the baby was fully lifted from me, his presence filled the room.
And then, nothing much for a very long time. He cried as all babies do (not that much actually – sound the Stealth Brag klaxon) and as he got older he babbled, and as he got older still he started to try and say some words but was and still is far behind some of his peers. For over a year I’ve answered the question “what’s that?” a hundred times a day, even when the answer is things that he couldn’t possibly be expected to understand, like “a manhole cover for the electricity board” or “hearse” or (this week) “What’s what? Oh, erm, it’s a very short man. No he’s not a baby, he’s a grown up man just like grandad. No he’s not a baby. Can we try and use indoor voices please?”.
This seems to have satisfied him for a long time because it required a certain degree of audience participation and then his other vocabulary extended to the fabulous world of vehicles – car, ‘ane (plane), and choo choo. Not much else. I didn’t sweat it, because I knew he understood everything and I don’t have any concerns about his development in any way. But I longed for him to say “Mummy”.
“Oh” laugh all the Nelly-Know-Alls “You’ll be sick of it once he starts”. I smile and nod, being polite. “When they’re little you can’t wait for them to walk and talk and then you spend the rest of their lives telling them to sit down and shut up!” If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a hundred times. I get it. But as he adds more and more half-words and sounds to his repertoire I fall more in love with the sound of his voice.
Eventually, it came. I can’t remember when or where – perhaps I am meant to record these things in a special baby book but perhaps I am also meant to hoover my car out more and not eat grated cheese standing over the kitchen sink – but the M word finally came. I’ll admit it wasn’t quite how I’d expected it. Instead of “Mummy” how you might pronounce it anywhere north of Birmingham (an area in which, inexplicably, all mums are called “Mom” like a bleaker rainier version of Beverley Hills 90210 where you have to have the correct change for the bus instead of being given a Mercedes convertible for your 16th birthday) …he said “Mammy”.
Mammy. Not like southerners say it either. Mammy. Either it’s a recessive Irish gene or an Al Jolson impression. But it’s not my name. I’m Mummy.
But the false start didn’t disappoint me. Here we were. Him calling me M*mmy and me responding. A few weeks went by and he focused on other words that I really didn’t think were as important as Yours Truly – like submarine and extractor fan – but before long he’d cracked it: Mummy. In the sweetest little voice I’ve ever heard. Years I’ve waited to be someone’s Mummy and now I can hear it first hand. I am his. Only his. I’ll never grow tired of that.