We’d been together ten years before we got talking seriously of having kids. We’d always planned on children, but we needed to work out the when and the how and – unique to lesbian parents – the who.
Over those years, we’d frequently played something akin to Mr Potato Head, taking our favorite parts of ourselves and sticking them onto our future children: “She’ll have your legs.” “Okay, but your sense of humor.” “He’ll be really smart.” “But I hope he gets your hair.” Etcetera. We had talked often and at great length about our values and our views on discipline, education, creativity and chores, enough to know that we were well in sync. We had not discussed what our children would call us.
”Mom” and “mom”, beside being impractical, sounds, well, stupid. As we are neither hippies nor teenage babysitters, having our children address us by our given names was also out of the question. I have always wanted kids. I used to drive around conversing with my imaginary two-year-old, six-year-old, preteen. (I see you singing along to Prince in your car so don’t throw stones.) In all those imagined conversations, my child called me “mom”. I so looked forward to being that in another person’s life — “Mom”. Not “Mum”. Not “Nana”. Not any of countless things we considered. And certainly not “Ima”.
”Ima” is Hebrew for “mom”; we’re Jewish so it seemed like a fairly clever solution. It also seemed appropriate that as the more strongly Jewish-identified, I should take the Hebrew name. I tried it out. In my head, on my tongue . . . and no matter how or how often I said it, it still felt wrong. It wasn’t “mom”, no matter what the dictionary claimed. It was a terrible dissapointment.
Eventually, the day came when my first child – not even looking at me, but glancing over his shoulder in my direction – called me Ima. I’d love to say the moment was electrifying; that I had an epiphany. But I didn’t. What I felt in that moment was . . . natural. “Yes, that’s right, honey; that’s a ‘cat'”. In that moment, I suppose, I really did become Ima.
And not only to my own children. On warm sunny days, the neighborhood rings with “Ima”. It matters not a bit to the other children that I’ve told them my name, or that my children have explained that it means mom. One small girl, recently adopted by her aunt, simply beamed when told this. She looked at me and my spouse and chirped, “now I have three moms!” She summed it up well for lot of the other kids.
Ours is the house where the kids congregate. I’m the mom that makes lemonade slushies and fixes everything from bikes to boo boos. They know I claim to hate messes but tolerate quite a lot of it. Often times, I don’t even know who these children are or where they come from. “Ima, this is my cousin Hector. He’s from Puerto Rico and don’t speak English much. Can we go out back and bounce?”
One day, during a friend’s visit, two of the boys who’d been riding their bikes up and down the street dragged in a third I’d never seen before. “He wiped out” they told me. The nine-year-old was shy and trying manfully not to dissolve into tears as he lifted his shirt to show me the nasty road rash. I cleaned the scrape and sprayed it with Bactine. I guessed he was at that terrible age when a kiss still would help but can’t be accepted, so I gave his shoulders a little squeeze.
My friend was quiet until after I’d given him an “all better” swat on the behind and sent him on his way. Then, chuckling and shaking her head, she asked, “isn’t he spending the summer with them right across the street?” I nodded vaguely. “Then how come they all come over here to get patched up?” I straightened and looked at my friend. “Because I’m Ima”.