Attached to a chunk of hardened lava was a small anthurium. You know, those plants with glossy green leaves and a glossy red flower that has...oh, hell, I'll just say it...a long penis sticking out of it. There was one flower on the plant. The packaging said there'd be another every half year. But less than a month later, I noticed a second bloom curled in on itself like a sleeping fruit bat. I said to my two year old daughter, "Look, a baby." And that one statement has changed the course of Maxie's thinking in a profound way. Immediately, she not only wanted to see the baby, she wanted touch the baby. I was wary. Her two year old grasp can crack walnuts. I insisted on the aquarium two-finger touch. At the touching pool at the Long Beach Aquarium, you can "pet" zebra sharks and rays if you use the flight-attendant-nearest-exit technique. Second and middle fingers only. Maxie agreed. It became part of our routine. After lunch, she'd caress Baby with parental adoration. Soon, other objects became Baby as well. A doll's shoe, Baby. Small rubber ball, also Baby. Then there was Baby rock, Baby toe nail, Baby tomato, Baby poo poo, Baby snot. Anything, really. As long as larger something was accompanied by smaller something, well then, invariably smaller something would be called Baby.
One day, Maxie was lovingly two-fingering Baby anthurium, and for whatever reason her focus changed to the larger of the two flowers. She began to pat it instead. As she did so, I could see original thought form on her face. She looked at me with the most triumphant of smiles and labeled larger something, "Mommy." Her tapping grew more urgent. "Mommy," she said again, checking my response. "Mommy." Excitement taking over. Mommy flower bobbing and weaving. "Mommy, mommy, mommy."
"Yes, mommy," I appeased quickly taking away the agitated anthurium. As I put the plant in its place by the kitchen sink, I whispered to the tall flower, "Mommy with a penis."According to Wikipedia, "Anthurium flowers are small and develop in a crowded spike on the fleshy axis." So, the red thing is not the anthurium's flower. In fact, there are many, many flowers, which completely cover the spike/penis...the penis/spike. Potayto/potahto.
Our oldest, Sebastian, uttered his first word at twelve months. It was Cosmo. Cosmo is our overly needy half wolf/half husky. He was named after the libation, and takes medication for separation anxiety. Sebastian's second word was dada. Boy, was Michael proud. And I hate to admit, but I was hurt. I was the one who got up in the night, who pureed vegetables he refused to eat. I did that. When was I going to hear the strong plosive poppings of Papa? Turns out, I had a long wait ahead of me.
Before Papa, I was Mama. At first, I couldn't believe what I heard. But sure enough, my son would reach his skinny arms through the crib slats and call out, "Mama." While Michael thought this was funny, I was obsessed about where he heard the M word. This was before other kids' influences, before preschool, before I used TV as a babysitter. How did my child settle on, of all things Mama? Up to that point he only called me "Ahhhhhh!" What started out as cute quickly got on my nerves. After a while, he'd say Mama and I'd knee jerk... I might be as nelly as you please, but when you rip away my rip-away shorts, well...the proof is in the pudding. I'm Papa. Dammit!
I don't mean to sound sexist...or whateverist. But being Mama was never part of my programming. I was supposed to walk into a room stink up the place, make a mess, and hog the remote. I would then tolerate my kids until they were of tennis playing age, at which point I would humiliate them on the court, and afterwards have them make me a scotch and soda. So, this bathing and changing and feeding and cooing over numerous times a day...it's not a natural fit. I'm supposed to be cooed over. Fusses made about me. But I've had to reprogram. And now, there are moments when I actually like mommying. I said moments. I am food. I am shelter. I am transport. I am education. I am warm soapy water. I am comfort.
At one point, Maxie also called me Mama. Two different children, two different gene pools. How does this happen? I have heard people say some things are a part of our collected consciousness. I don't believe that bunk. But I have my own theory about this. Maybe in their developing minds the "mmmmm" of mama comes from the comfort of suckling. Not that my kids suckled me. God knows they tried. But whether by bottle or teat, our little ones receive succor, nourishment, protection from the parent at the other end. They mew and mouth. Mmm, mmmm, mmmmm...mama...mom...mommy.
Today, I am called Papa. Mommy is reserved for dress wearing characters in picture books...and anthurium.
Wikipedia again: "The flowers are often divided sexually with a sterile band separating male from female." The anthurium is of both sexes. Which rightly or wrongly makes me think of the man in Oregon who gave birth. Makes me think of the public outcry since. Makes me wonder why we refuse to acknowledge magic. When we were kids we believed in green giraffes and spoor shooting plants.
Daddy with a womb. Mommy with a penis. That's all it is.
From the other room I hear plosive P's popping, "Papa, papa..." And sometimes I long for the days of Mama. I long for mmmm...