Awaiting the Naming

In February I will be going to the AWP conference which will be hosted in Washington DC this year. I haven’t been in three years and I’m excited to see (and hug) friends, hear discussions, and soak up poetry. Then there’s the fact I’ll be in DC and can visit the various Smithsonian museums, the Library of Congress and Lincoln Memorial, which holds a new significance in my life now.

After the infusion of culture and language, I’ll take the Bolt and spend time with my grandson. Still an infant, I will rock him and coo at him and willing change his diapers rather than hand him over. I will have about five days, chunks of time, to absorb his scent when I hold him on my shoulder, listen to baby noises,  sing to him, recite poems in soft tones. I will imprint into my muscle memory the feel of his small frame when he lets the world know his displeasure, his need for food and that weight as he sleeps.  I will kiss his feet.

He is the first grand-baby for both sets of grandparents and as such, he gets to name us.  My mother wanted to be a “Nana” but my son called her “Nanny” and then just “Nan”. One of the ironies here is my mother’s name was “Ann” and she cringed if you called her “Annie”. Oh but her grandson could call her anything he wanted.  My grandmother was supposed to be called Grammy. . .but the first of her 18 grandchildren, said Mim-ee which got spelled, Mimi.

There’s identity in naming. Our parents name us. his parents, gave him a name once he was born. My mother didn’t choose a girl’s name because she was convinced she was having a “Jimmy”.  Yes, I was born wrong. My father said, “Ann” after her. But this was a name she never really liked, so she added the “Marie”. I was to be called both names after her friend, a woman who went to medical school in the ’40’s. But when my father held me, clean and dressed in the delivery room, he said: “Oh isn’t she a little Tinkerbell”. So really, my parents called me “Tink” and only Ann-Marie when I was in trouble.

When I married I got to choose what names I wanted. Did I want my family name or choose my husband’s.  Everyone kept asking. Charlie said, “I don’t care what you call yourself but you have to make up your mind.”  . I was helping my mother-in-law set the table for dinner. I realized she kept her family name as a middle name just as my mother had. Both made this choice of identity before feminism was a social movement.  I had a number of poems already published and never really had a ‘middle’ name, so as I laid out silver ware and glasses, the decision to keep my family name became self-evident. I had the audacity to claim all four names, and use them. It also made for great initials: AMMI.

As a parent I was Mommy. Ma. Mother. Mom. During one of those times when our kids test boundaries, my son called me by my given name. I asked nicely that he not to do that. I was his mother not his friend. He did it again while I was making dinner and he got on my last nerve. I turned on him, threatening him a wooden spoon (a teenager bigger than I at this point) and spat: “There is only one person on this earth that has the privilege of calling me Mom, Mother or Ma and you will do so!” I can still feel the heat in that moment.  Anyone and everyone calls me Ann-Marie.

Now his child gets to name me. Sometime this year as words form out of his babble, among the landmark first of solid foods, grasping things and first steps, he will find the name for this new identity. The anticipation is sweet and I am powerless over such joy.

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