When my son started to learn to babble, he picked up syllables in a fairly standard way. ‘Mama’ came before ‘dada’, though, which is a less common ordering, and in my son’s parlance meant ‘I am sad and want comforting’, which as a Mama I gave him.
When my son started to talk in the big rush of language he experienced around the point of turning two, ‘Mama’, the concept of comfort, made enough room for a personal ‘me’, and this me was called Yayii. I don’t know why or how Yayii came about. ‘Daddy’ was said confidently and strong, and for a while it seemed that I had no name. At home, I was called and referred to myself as ‘mummy’, and my husband echoed this, but my little boy did not adopt this. I started to wonder if I would ever have a name, as words for all manner of objects: duck, caterpillar, trampoline, all made their place in my son’s language.
We joked about it for a long time, but I never actually felt upset. Other people sometimes projected on me that surely I did, but honestly I was so bowled over that we had words, and ideas, and that we were communicating that the word ‘mummy’ did not bother me. I am sure that my husband felt almost guilty that ‘daddy’ rang so clear and joyfully through the house, but then so did ‘oat bar!’, and I wasn’t going to take either personally.
Then, one day, after many months of reinforcing who I was, I had a name! But it wasn’t a ‘mummy’ name. All of a sudden I was a ‘Yayii’.
The spelling is my approximation of it. I don’t know where it came from and how he attached it to me, but soon it was the most frequently sounded word in our household. Yayii, Yayii, Yayiiiiiiiii.
And it stuck, for the better time of a year. My husband and I still used ‘mummy’ to refer to me, but Darwin had my name for me, and that was unwaveringly how he referred to me. I was his Yayii.
People will often enquire after a toddler’s speech. It’s one of the more common things to be asked during times when there is a silence to be filled. Family and friends, strangers in coffee shops, everyone wants to know ‘is he talking yet?’. Sometimes they’d just hear him say it, or sometimes, when having longer conversations or with people who I knew well, I’d mention that I was, for reasons I did not know, ‘Yayii’, and that Yayii was my son’s name for me.
Many people immediately thought that I might be upset at this (projection again, perhaps?) or even distressed that this was some marker of development. I still was not, though sometimes did felt upset that people were assuming these anxieties upon me. Were they upset that my son did not call me mummy? Were other people anxious about his development? I laughed it off and was still happy with my name. I have been worried about many things as a parent, but this was one thing that did not concern me at all. I liked my name. There are many wonderful mummies in the world, but how special to be a Yayii. There can’t be many of those.
Still people enquired if my son was calling me mummy, yet? No, I was still a Yayii. I was still his Yayii. Then, after a long pause on the phone one day, somebody said ‘hmm… that’s odd’ in a very grave way. That was the beginning of when I started to notice more that people looked uncomfortable and said ‘that’s strange’ and ‘oh dear’. Then there was even one instance of ‘I’m so sorry’ (though I was never in mourning for a name I hadn’t had). Then came the day that someone asked if I had thought about ‘taking him to see somebody about it’ and people spontaneously started giving him ad-hoc lessons on how to say ‘mummy’ because ‘Darwin can’t do it’, and I started being cut out of the learning transaction all together.
The thing is, though, Darwin could do it. He could say mummy perfectly well. He understood the concept of a mummy and the mother-child relationship. If looking at a picture of a family of frogs he’d be able to say clearly who was daddy frog, mummy frog, and baby frog (or bear, or any other animal). He knew his friend’s mummies, and would name them so, but I was his Yayii.
At this point the awkward looks started making me feel the need to prove that he could say mummy to people, in the hope that they wouldn’t call him ‘…odd’. And yes, he would say mummy if prompted, as long as he was not referring to me. This did not stop people practically telling me I should be worried or upset. I sometimes went home from gatherings or chance meetings with ‘oh dears’ and ‘how strange’ and all manner of advice ringing in my ears, until one encounter just wore me down so much and made me feel like I was being pushed into being thought a bad parent if I didn’t march him immediately to a speech therapist or child psychologist that we decided that, no, Darwin should call me mummy.
So, we started to really push the name of mummy. Not harshly, and never with frustration, but reinforcing the idea that, no, my name was mummy, to call me mummy, that I am mummy. When he started to pick up the gentle insistence that I was called mummy we greeted each ‘mummy’ instance with a big cheer and a cuddle, until, all too soon, Yayii was gone.
And it’s typing those words that has made me cry.
Whatever other people may think of it, it is my biggest regret that I’ve experienced as a parent, because I took away my boy’s Yayii. As soon as I noticed that he had stopped saying it, I regretted it, and a feeling dropped through my body like an icy cold sickness. I remember where I was standing when I realised that I had lost my name. I told my husband, and I think he immediately knew that I was hurting, hard. He, I think in desperation, did something he’d never done before and referred to me as Yayii to Darwin, to prompt him to say it again, but I knew it wouldn’t work and it wasn’t right if he wasn’t calling me it naturally, plus I did not want to confused him further. I had to accept that Yayii had gone, and all because I was stupid enough to let people in wider society, many of whom I don’t even know well nor care about, and certainly none who I could love with the same depth I love my family, slowly deposit their fears and anxieties, preconceived ideals and perceptions onto me.
I thought about this a bit during my worst depressive episode in seven years, one that hit me like a sledgehammer on the back of more unwelcome bad health news. It was by no means the cause of it, but it was tied into a few wider worries. In the skewed logic of panic and anxiety that there was no way that I could believe that I was a good parent. It was just another way that I had let my child down, but one that echoed to me in his voice every day (every few minutes of every day, because that’s what toddlers do).
I know that I cannot bring my boy’s Yayii back, but I can preserve the memory of my most special name. I do not trust my memory to keep my special name for me, because it is dealing with so many things to remember, and so I bought myself a necklace. It is a simple reminder of Yayii and child in silver, that I am wearing now. I’m pulling myself out of my depression slowly, and I’m trying to accept myself as being a good mummy. I am a loving mummy who is dedicated to helping my son have a happy and loving start to life, and being Yayii will be a memory I will always cherish.