Whither Mommy? It's all Moms and Mamas these days, or so it seems. My own mother ("Mom," but "Mommy" back in the day) referred to me as "Mommy" to my son a bunch of times before I had to say something. I figured she'd catch on eventually that that's not the word I use for myself, but I found it grating enough that I couldn't wait.
I'm Mom. And for some reason that I can't pin down, being called "Mommy" really bugs. I mean, if Ben starts calling me "Mommy," I'm not about to correct him, and I imagine I'll think it's pretty cute, given the preponderance of evidence that I think nearly everything this child does is cute. But until then, I resist. And if I have to come up with a reason, the closest I can come is that it's infantilizing -- which I recognize is ridiculous, since my child is an actual infant. But it strikes me as icky, syrupy, like talking to your spouse in baby-talk.
But as "Mom," I think I'm in the minority, at least among mothers I know. Most of them are "Mama." It seems to be a phenomenon of the crunchy left, but maybe my sample is just skewed. The first person of my generation I noticed calling herself "Mama" was my friend Michele, who, tragically, isn't around to ask about it. I'd place her on the fringes of the range of crunchy, and probably leftish though not very political. I thought it was maybe a family tradition or a selected bit of quirkiness, like how she had her daughter call female family friends "Tante."
But then it started cropping up all over, this Mama thing. It didn't acquire a patina of ew for me until I started occasionally rubbernecking (via this thread at TPW) at the train wreck that is the Mothering Dot Com Forums. To be fair, most of what's there is perfectly sensible and well-in-the-range-of-normal discussion, but the outliers are a doozy. (Don't bother looking for the carnage if you're an outsider: the juicy threads are in folders to which only trusted users have access.) It's your basic crunchy parenting stuff (cloth diapering, breastfeeding, big love for Dr. Sears) with forays into the mildly icky (family cloth), the might-be-ok-if-not-practiced-by-idiots (unschooling), the science-averse (refusing to vaccinate), the disturbing (advice about how to keep CPS off your scent), and the truly terrifyingly stupid (UC VBAC). From the mildly crunchy to the wildly unhinged on this board, though, they nearly all call themselves "Mama." It's a kind of shibboleth of adherence to principles of crunchiness, and it's this connotation of the word that grates on me.
Otherwise, it's a perfectly cromulent word. It seems of a piece with "Mommy," though not nearly so treacly, in its embrace of the infantile: "ma-ma," after all, is among every baby's first words. Mommies grow up to be Moms, though, which I suspect Mamas do not. "Mama" suggests something vaguely European, which may be part of its appeal: both babyish and strangely sophisticated. Nobody would accuse Mommy of belonging to the cosmopolitan Old World.
Some part of the adoption of "Mama" is the rejection of "Mom," of course, which used to be -- and still is in lots of places -- the gold standard. So what's wrong with "Mom"? Too mainstream? Too attached to apple pie in that oft-cited American twosome? For what it's worth, Dad doesn't seem to have been replaced. Dad is still Dad.
I find amusing the Baby Boomer Grandmother's agonizing search for a term for herself other than "Grandma." She's no "Grandma"! She's too hip, too rockin', too full of vim and verve and zest and other things that mean life and contain unusual letters. She's Nana or Oma or the word for grandmother in other various languages. (I shamed my own mother with this argument into accepting "Grandma," and I think she's ok with it.) But I wonder whether it isn't the same forces at work on BBG's daughter: "Mom" is simply not awesome enough to contain her.