When my husband and I were expecting our first child, we anticipated that our lives would change, that we would shift all of our attention from nurturing ourselves (as two people who got married in our mid-30s, we had several decades to perfect that skill) to nurturing this fragile life. We spent hours selecting a name for our child (something unique as in ‘special’, but not too unique as in ‘weird’) but once we brought the little bundle home from the hospital, something happened that we didn’t anticipate, our names became irrelevant.
We were “Ima” and “Abba” (that’s “Mom” and “Dad” in Hebrew), the newest members of a club with millions of others who carried the exact same name.
I found myself buying into this new reality with gusto. I started writing thank you notes for gifts that Tamir received, referring to myself in the third person, “his mother is going to love dressing him in the adorable onesie!” The phenomenon didn’t stop there. In a music class that my little Beethoven-to-be and I are in, the “Hello Everybody” song begins with the little tikes and their names pronounced precisely – Eva (hard “e”), James, Matan (long second “a”), then the caregivers (named one by one.) Then, last but not least, “Hello to the (anonymous) mommies.” Hold on, everybody – aren’t we at least caregivers too? When did our names dissolve into anonymity?
I should have seen this transition coming. After all, we had 8 days after our son was born to understand it. There’s this ‘liminal space,’ an in-between time in the Jewish tradition, between the birth of a boy and his official naming, through the ancient ritual of brit milah (circumcision). While we knew what we wanted to call him, no one else did. He was in a waiting period before getting his unique name and that gave us time to adjust to losing ours.
While our new names, “Ima” and “Abba” are not unique to us, they are relational. They only makes sense when our son says them. Perhaps that’s the point.