From the minute my son was born, I couldn't wait to be called Mommy, but in a surprising turn of events, he wasn't the first person to call me Mommy. It was a 5-year-old girl.
After my son was born, I knew that I was going to have to go back to work. It was important for me to be as present for him as possible. That's when I turned to the idea of childcare. I knew that I could find a job where I could bring him along. I found a family with a young daughter that was completely understanding of my need to bring my kid. Their daughter was in kindergarten and had never had a caregiver outside of the family.
Their daughter and my son (who was 16 months old at the time) got along like they had been friends forever. I was so relieved. As we were leaving, I told her that we would all see each other in two sleeps, and I could tell she was counting the seconds until we returned.
When I picked her up from school two days later, she was so happy to see us. We both smiled and I waved as she came bounding over. “Mommy!” she said happily. I froze, even if it was only for a nanosecond.
What was I supposed to say in response? Should I correct her? Do I just let it slide? I decided that maybe it was just a fluke. She was 5; surely she was just overly excited. Plus, was that really the worst thing to be called?
Over that first week, I came to realize that she had created an alternate family with me and my son. She was still calling me Mommy. I was surprised at the ease with which it slipped out of her mouth. There was never a hesitation; it was like she had been calling me Mommy her whole life. So, I was her mommy and my son was her “little sister.” She was aware that he was a boy; she always used the appropriate pronouns when referring to him. But she obviously wanted a little sister and if she couldn't get one then he would make a good enough substitute. He was so little that he had no idea what was happening. And if he did he never let on.
As a babysitter, I knew that her mom had nothing to worry about. As a mom, my heart was a little sad for her. But I think because of her age I knew that she wasn't replacing her actual mom with me. I know that it would be hard for me to hear my son call another woman Mommy. At his age, he wasn't as aware that mommy wasn't just a word, but my identity in our relationship.
Once I figured this out, I decided not to say anything to anyone about it. I wasn't worried about her mom's reaction; she didn't have anything to worry about.
Every day her mom walked through the door at 6 p.m. and was always greeted enthusiastically. I knew that if anything she would probably be amused.
I have to admit that I secretly liked it. My son still hadn't really begun to talk yet, and I enjoyed having someone call me Mommy. I did all of the same things for her that her mom would do. I got her snacks, poured her juice, brushed the tangles out of her hair and rubbed her belly when it hurt. We sang along to Disney movies, played Candyland and cuddled together in the cold.
Eventually her mom did find out; she would refer to each of us as “my other mommy,” depending on whom she was talking to. We'd just shrug and laugh it off. I don't know how she referred to me when I wasn't there, and I never thought to ask. She never once asked me about it, so my assumption that it wasn't a big deal was correct. It became common knowledge that she considered me to be her afternoon Mommy. When we were out in public, she would introduce me to strangers as her mother and no one ever questioned her. I always felt maternal towards her, the same way I did with my actual kid. The only person who ever corrected her was her maternal grandmother. She was quick to correct her and looked at me for backup. I just smiled and shrugged.
At that stage, as a mother, I couldn't really relate. My son had never really been away from me for more than maybe an hour. The only people who have cared for him are his grandparents. If the roles had been reversed, I have to admit I would have been a little sad. Part of the reason I was working that particular job was so I could be there for him. If I couldn't, and then heard him call his caregiver "Mommy," I would have felt terrible.
One day, as the weather warmed and the trees bloomed, I picked her up from school as I always did. She waved excitedly like she did every day. “Sa’iyda!” I smiled and felt my heart sink a little. I was no longer Mommy. I was simply Sa’iyda. Our fantasy life was over. I'll admit it; I was sad. I worried that our special bond was broken. It wasn't; it had just evolved into something new. She no longer needed a Mommy; she needed a friend. That didn't change the way I treated her, of course. I still kissed her boo-boos and played Candyland. Even her relationship with my son evolved; he worships her as much as she loves him.
Now that he's a little bit older, I have thought about what I would do if I heard him call someone else Mommy — and I'd embrace it.
Sure, it would be weird, but I would be happy that he found someone who makes him feel as safe and secure as I do. That's not easy to find, and if you do find it, you have to be grateful.
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