This is how I usually address my mother-in-law. Very personable and respectful, I know. When I met her many years ago, she’d insisted I call her by her name, Carol, but my mouth was never quite able to form the word. Try as I might, my lips would invariably freeze in an awkward and exaggerated pucker, as though I were sucking on a handful of Sour Patch Kids.
“Caaarrrrrrrr… Hey, you!”
Why? Because she is an ADULT. Her, grown-up. Me, child. Even now that I’m in my 30s, I still call my friends’ parents “Mrs. Coyne,” “Mr. Rao” and “The Mom Who Enjoyed Flashing Her Panties at the Boys.” (Yes, I’m talking to YOU, Mrs. James.)
Mr. Candy is in a similarly awkward no-name situation with my parents. Mom had told him to call her “Joyce” or “Mom,” neither of which he was particularly comfortable with, so he just kinda mumbles “Joymo” in hopes that she’ll respond.
“Mr. Candy should really do something about that speech impediment,” my mom whispered to me, concerned.
With Baby Girl on the way, however, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change course on this seemingly endless no-name track. Because whatever our daughter calls her grandparents, WE can call them, too.
Mr. Candy wrinkled his nose as though I’d suggested calling his mother “Grand-Ho’.”
“What’s wrong with ‘grandma’? That’s what I call my grandmothers. That’s what my nephews call my mom. In fact, I think that’s what MOST people call their –”
“No, no, no. My mom is going to be ‘GrandMOM.’ Just like I called my grandmothers.”
In my usual mature fashion, I rolled my eyes. I felt surprisingly protective of the title “Mom.” Protective in a way I hadn’t felt since a busboy tried to clear my still-half-full margarita from the table in the famous “Don’t Take My Margarita, Asshole!” Incident of 2003. So I would be “Mom” and my mother-in-law would be “Grandmom?” As in the higher-ranking mom? I wasn’t sure I liked this.
“Yeah. Okay. Sounds good,” I shrugged.
Hey, you gotta pick your battles. And I, to be honest, was being silly. At least Mr. Candy and I can finally ditch the “Hey… you!” and “Joymo” nonsense in favor of “Grandma/mom.” It’s not like my dad’s nickname, “Pap,” which he’s been called for twenty-something years now, would have been my personal choice either. It’s a common and perfectly nice title, I know. But it also happens to be the lead-in of my least favorite phrase, which ends with “smear.” And nobody likes to associate their dad with that phrase. Unless they have some SERIOUS issues. Like Mrs. James.
When I recently asked my mom about the genesis of “Pap,” I could practically hear the wheels turning in her head. And turning… and turning…
“Um… I think your sister just started calling him that when she had Derek. Or something. What does it matter? It’s just who he is now.”
A well-thought-out process, this grandparent-naming situation is. In fact, I’m already thinking ahead to my grandparental title: I call dibs on “Grand-Ho’.”