My 4-year-old daughter was recently in the hospital.
And I don’t mean “in the hospital” as in “visiting a friend and then scampering down to the cafeteria for a chocolate fro-yo.” I mean “in the hospital” as in “hospitalized.”
Yet every nurse, doctor, CNA and hospital food service worker who entered the room would say the exact same thing to me: “How are we today, Mom?”
And in response, I would dismissively say the exact same thing every day: “Oh you know, living the dream.”
First and foremost, please allow me to acknowledge my profound gratitude for the caregivers in those grueling days, during which my daughter was battling complications from the flu — and I was at her side, watching her suffer, through the opaque haze of my very own awesome case of the flu. I’ve written about that experience, which was terrifying and humbling and awe-inspiring — and did I mention, terrifying?
But the point of this particular story is something a bit more trivial, yet meaningful in retrospect as I reflect upon this crazy-making experience.
They called me “Mom.”
Huh. So last I checked, I’m fairly confident I had NOT evacuated these doctors, nurses, CNAs and food service workers from my body at some point in the past two decades. I know my memory is spotty ever since giving birth the first time almost 19 years ago, but I can pretty much guarantee I would have remembered that.
To put a finer point on it: I had been holding bedside vigil for days. And days. And days. (I think it may have actually been three days total, but given the side effects of flu brain, I can’t be sure.)
Regardless, it was more than 10 minutes and less than 10 weeks. And for that kind of event — a hospitalization, with a stay of more than 10 minutes — I think learning my name would have been a supportive gesture.
After all, the names of every doctor, nurse, CNA and food service worker were all scrawled in all of their dry-erase glory on the board at the foot of my daughter’s bed. And I’m quite sure my name was ALL OVER every single piece of paper I had initialed, signed and practically notarized when we first were admitted.
I’m by no means marginalizing their workload: I recognize how busy their schedules are, and I am beyond grateful for their expertise. I’m just wishing for an extra 2-second glance at a prominent notecard on a clipboard outside of her room. I’m just wishing for some personalized acknowledgment that I’m a human first in this situation — one who was terrified and powerless and craving true connection. I’m just wishing for comfort that would have so easily been granted with a simple use of my name.
So I would chalk this up to a case of Grumpy Fluey McFluerson simply having a grumpy fluey meltdown, but I have experienced this personal pet peeve more often than once.
When taking my kids to the pediatrician — the same pediatrician and nurse we’ve seen for all of my kids, now ranging in age from 4 to 18 — the nurse predictably leads with this standard greeting: “Hey there Mama, how is everyone today?”
When dropping off my then-toddlers at their then-preschools, the same schools we’ve attended for years: “How are we today, Mom?”
When taking my family to Chili’s for dinner: “What are we having today, Mom?”
Obviously I don’t expect my friendly Chili’s server to learn my name. But what I do expect — or rather, hope for — is that they NOT call me “mom.”
Because there are three and only three people in this world who have earned that right. Of course I am “a mom,” but to anyone who does not share my DNA, I am certainly not “their mom.”
To me, “Mom” is sacred. I have the utmost respect for mine, and I cherish my role as mom to these three souls more than you can imagine.
And right there — that sacred respect — is the root of the issue for me. Well, that — and the fact that true customer service begins when a person’s personal personification is acknowledged and used.
Also, we should keep this in mind: There are so many different iterations of families these days. There are grandmas raising kids, two moms raising kids, two dads raising kids and moms raising kids who are raising their kids. There are friends and teachers and aunts and fosters and so much more. Why do we presume to know what such an important relationship “looks like,” when there are so many different ways it can possibly look?
So please, everyone: Let’s stop using the “mom” moniker as a throwaway. Because to those of us who are blessed enough to own it, “Mom” is a treasured signature, an identity, one not to be squandered, taken even remotely lightly or used by anyone except our offspring.
And that includes husbands. Don’t even get me started about men who call their wives “Mom,” “Mommy,” “Mama” or any variation (of course I’m speaking about when their kids are not within earshot).
And for the sake of ease, I’ve compiled a comprehensive flowchart illustrating in a step-by-step manner just how to make the decision of whether or not you should call someone “Mom.”
Let me know if I need to make any edits, but I think this about covers it.