Keeping mum

When you tell people that you’re going to become a father for the first time (or in my case, a father to a baby for the first time, given the presence of The Young Ones), you suddenly find yourself playing a game of Baby Bingo. As the well-meaning person you’re talking to rattles off platitudes with the staccato regularity of a machine gun, you can chuckle (or over dramatically fake abject terror) like it’s the first time you heard them, and surreptitiously tick each one off your list. Once you reach ten, you scream “Baby Bingo!” and run out of the room with your arms flailing above your head, before returning exhausted two minutes later to breathlessly wheeze “I’m a Baby Bingo winner and I hereby claim my five poundsdollars!”

Some of the bingo boxes are more easy to get than others, of course. “When is she due?” is practically checked before your conversational cohort has opened his or her mouth. I’ve become accustomed to answering “Are you having a boy or a girl? ” with “I certainly hope so!” such is the frequency of its use. And if I had a dollar for every time somebody said “Better catch up on your sleep now!” I’d be a rich man (although not rich enough to pay for even half the paraphernalia you seem to need to deal with the consequences of a steamy night nine months previously).

Other phrases come with perhaps less regularity, although still maintaining a frequency that would be the envy of the New York subway system if translated to trains. “Everything changes as soon as you take the first look at the baby” is a current favourite, while “Have you ever changed a nappydiaper before?” also seems to be a popular one right now. And don’t get me started on the number of differnt variations that people find in order to say “your life is about to come to an end”.

Having had so many questions and comments (solicited or otherwise) I thought I was ready for everything. Until I realiszed that my child is going to be born an American, and is therefore going to say ‘mom’ rather than ‘mum’. And frankly that put a bit of a dampener on my day.

Most Americaniszations I can deal with, to be honest, and I’ve learned to translate in my head before opening my mouth. But the moment I say ‘mom’ or ‘mommy’ will be a cold day in hell.

‘Mom’ just seems as uniquely American as peanut butter and ‘jelly’ sandwiches, or waterboarding suspected terrorists. I’ve already had to accept that the child might grow up to think that Hershey’s is an acceptable form of chocolate, or that there really is any point in (American) football. But there are some boundaries that really can’t be crossed. And that starts with ‘mom’. I’m British and proud of it, and I simply won’t give in to this slow and insidious creeping Yankification.

Now, enough of this chat – I’m off to have a bagel. Have a nice day y’all.

11 thoughts on “Keeping mum

  1. Noble Savage

    Won’t it be kind of up to The Special One what she’s called? Actually, even then, it won’t be. Kids are only indulgent of our neuroses for so long and then they use whatever it is you hate to annoy the shit out of you. So beware expressing too much disdain for ‘Mom’ or he/she will surely be saying it repeatedly and at the top of his/her voice in a few years.

    That being said, I can’t stand ‘Mommy’ either, even though I’m American. Mom I can deal with, but Mommy? No bloody way. I’m Mummy and I like it that way.

  2. Apsidal

    My two eldest granddaughters, born here in Canada to an English mum, spoke with a perfect RE accent until they started Kindergarden. The elder then went through a self-conscious transition of pointedly changing words like water into wodder and party into pardy. And I love her for all that. Number two, however, having already been at school for a whole year still sounds like Renee Zelwiger’s rendering of Bridget Jones. I swell with pride every time she opens her adorable mouth!

  3. Brit' Gal Sarah

    Well many congrats on your impending event.

    I had to LOL @ the Hersheys & Football comments – amen to them & Mom! Spare a thought for me, in my role as a school secretary, I have to spew out MOM many times a day!

  4. Brooklyn


    Your post refers to “mom” and “mum” used in both the second and third person as in:

    Second person: “Mom/mum, have you seen the python I put in my sock drawer and forgot to tell you about.”

    Third person: “I’m really angry at my mom/mum; she found the python I brought home and had the police take it away without waiting for me to come home and ask me about it.”

    Based on your post, I suppose you would view this following reminiscence with both fascination and horror: When I was growing up, in my neighborhood we all used “Ma” in the first person, but for some reason used the formal “mother” in the third.

    So, it could be worse than “Mom” which has a distant relationship with “Mum.”

  5. Lisa

    I’m sure your child will say both. He or she will pick up quite a bit of language from you.

    I taught my daughter, unintentionally, to say “toe-mahto”. I blame Ian, who, by the way, has never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before.

    This still freaks us out.

  6. Iota

    Well, I’d steeled myself for that one before we moved to the US, and then my children (kids) confounded me by adopting “mamma”. Which actually is ok.

    Soon you’ll get to play Newborn Bingo, which starts with “just wait till he/she is a teenager, then you’ll think this bit was the easy bit”, and will include frequent references to the fact that you just got to do the easy bit, and sleep deprivation continues to feature a lot too.

  7. Iota

    Back to the mom/mum thing.

    I’d assumed that the two words sounded very different. Mum rhymes with gum; mom rhymes with bomb. But in the mouths of babes and sucklings standing at the bottom of a staircase and yelling “Maaaaaahm, where AAAARE you?”, they really sound very similar. I haven’t heard a child here say “mom” like bomb at all. Perhaps it’s a Midwest thing.

    And now I’ll get right out of your comments box.

  8. Dylan

    Noble Savage – I’m not denying The Special One the right to be called ‘mommy’ (she already is, by The Young Ones)…it’s just that right now I use the phrase mum, and I’m not going to change that. I just think it will be weird to hear my own kith and kin saying ‘mommy’…!

    Apsidal – I feel your pride!

    Brit Gal Sarah – thank you for the well wishes! I do think you should murmur ‘mum’ under your breath though, just to stay true to your roots.

    Brooklyn – I quite like ‘ma’, actually. The Beancounter (one of my recurring cast of characters) often refers to his mother as his ‘diddly old ma’. Given that his mum reads (or at least used to read) this blog, I would just like to take this opportunity to say that she is neither diddly nor indeed old. And once she reads this, she may no longer want to be The Beancounter’s ma, either.

    Mel – thanks!

    Lisa – look, Ian loves you, but there are some things he’s not willing to do to prove it. And I back him wholeheartedly.

    Iota – am not looking forward to Newborn Bingo, but it seems frighteningly unavoidable. And don’t get me started on the screamed ‘maaaaaaaaaaahm’…I hear that QUITE enough as it is!

  9. April

    If it makes you feel any better, my 12 year old son calls me mum. We’ve never been anywhere in Europe, whole family was born in America!! I absolutely love it, its like a sweet, more personal name for me. He even calls me it in front of friends and other family. I can’t even remember how it started, but it was a long time ago. Just refer to your baby’s mother as mum in front of them and they will pick it up on their own!

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