Today I am Maternal

Hello reader, and welcome! If you're new to the blog, you may want to read Today I am Steady before this entry. And if you're REALLY interested in the backstory, check out Today I am Carry and Today I am Susurrus too! Thank you, and happy reading!

The Story

It was difficult when her eyes began to change.

Everyone said they may darken, take on a darker hue. But Liza still prayed dearly that Pepper would keep the same bright eyes of her late husband.

Which she knew was silly. Pepper was hers by neither blood nor marriage, but she was more family than Liza had ever known. This babe she had warmed under her wing was more part of herself than anything she could imagine.

But she couldn’t help but prayer her eyes would stay blue.

Mourning a happy person was an odd pursuit. It was quite different than mourning one lost suddenly or shockingly tragic. True that any type of loss was overwhelming and powerful, but it struck Liza how many expected her to be okay. Not just okay, but…

“He would have wanted you to be happy.”

“There was so much joy in his last days, you must be thankful.”

“Do you think you’ll move on? He would surely would have hoped you would find the next person.”

“You worked so hard, you deserve to be happy.”

Happy? What part of her was supposed to be happy? Her entire life, more since she was eight years old playing with Barbie, she had dreamed of the perfect Ken. Unlike 99% of humans, she was lucky- she found him. She found her soul’s true mate.

And then he died.

In his memory, she adopted the baby they’d wished for since their first year of marriage. She had named the sweet wrinkly thing Pepper, after Peter’s favorite grandparent, and prayed the baby would somehow inherit Peter’s patience rather than her own anxiety.

Judging by the high-pitch crying, it was the unfortunate latter.

“Okay, aright, baby. Alright my sweet spicy Pepper, hush hush my love, mommy’s here.”

Mommy? Momma? Hmm. Mom? Mother? What on earth does one call oneself to their baby?

Normally the partner would decide. Sitting across from each other, pretending that the tiny being between them spitting up on itself is adorable, they would refer to each other naturally in the names that would stick with them for the next eighteen to sixty-four years.

Liza, however, was alone. So the theory of ridiculous names the child would adhere to fell on her shoulders alone.

Thank God the child was much more concerned about food and sleep than names for the next several months.

Names were hard in general, actually.

Her own, Liza, was short for Elizabeth. But when she’d taken Peter’s last name, she’d dropped all those extra letters. Her mother had plucked a regal-sounding name from the family tree, but no one ever used more than her four letters, so she she figured that’s all she needed to sign her checks.

Peter. When they met in the library, her new boss close by and giggling, Liza had been very disappointed to that those gorgeous blue eyes and jokester smile belonged to a ‘Peter’. Her aunt had always toted the theory of names, and in guesses for success of relationships, Aunt Susie had never been wrong. The young grad student imagined “Peter and Liza” did not roll off the tongue smooth enough for her aunt.

 

“That’s because you’d say ‘Liza and Peter’ instead. See how much better that sounds? You’ll marry him, honey. Just see.”

Another point for Aunt Susie.

Liza had almost called Aunt Susie for guidance the day she went to pick up baby Pepper. She needed a woman of both experience and sanity to tell her she was doing the right thing. Liza’s own mother was an excellent support system but was more a “whatever you do will be right, dear” kinda voice. She wanted to ask Aunt Susie if she would name the baby, if the hospital would, if the birth mother would. It had taken so long, and then been so sudden. She was supposed to have another week to make the drive North and prepare, but the baby had decide it was time.

But she chewed on the idea so long, the long drive was over and she was in the waiting room with the birth mother’s scared boyfriend.

“You’ll take care of her?”

“Of course. As best I possibly can.”

“I know, I know.” The boy shifted from foot to foot.

“You know,” Liza reached out, “you don’t have to do this. If you want to be her father, that’s your right. I don’t want to-“

“No!” The boy turned and grasped Liza’s arm, “No, no! Evie picked you. All the files we read, she saw your name, and said it’s you, you’re the mom. Not us. We talked. We’ve got scholarships, plans. I’m just worried about Evie. And kinda scared of her mom. She hasn’t been my biggest fan since Evie started screaming…”

On cue, a warrior’s screech had echoed to them from the hallway. 

 

She saw your name… you’re the mom.

Liza did not feel like the mom tonight. The baby was sobbing, and nothing was working. Food, diaper change, bum lotion, rocking, fresh blanket, more rocking, new toy, white noise machine- na da. Had young Evie really picked the right name?

“Come on Pepper, tell me, tell me baby. What do you need?” Liza bobbed around the room- swoop, rock rock, swoop rock rock, just like her Mommy & Me class had taught her to mimic womb and ocean at once. Pepper was not amused OR soothed.

 

“After his mother?!” The elder Mrs. Lindbogen had scolded Liza when she presented Pepper to her paternal grandparents. “She thought he was a play thing! Gave him alcohol before college! Helped him skip temple!”

Mr. Lindbogen had chortled, though. “He loved my mother, and my mother loved him. One time, when he was real small, he got these terrible nightmares from watching too many Halloween specials. The only thing that got him to sleep was her stories.”

He’d looked up at Liza then, “On the day of your wedding, when I asked if he was ready, he said the only thing better than Grandma’s story was your voice.”

 

Liza smiled down at Pepper. In a cheery voice she cooed, “Daddy was a little liar, wasn’t he? Yes he was, baby. ‘Cause my voice isn’t doing a thing for you, is it? No ma’am, na ah it’s not, honey.”

She swore the baby stopped mid-sob to giggle. Damn precocious little thing. Of course, then the sobbing continued.

“Okay, alright, let’s talk about Daddy then. Yes let’s talk about Daddy. Mmmhmm, Daddy was a good guy, wasn’t it? Terrible at oatmeal but loved us. Yes he did, baby.” She cooed and talked, talked and swayed.

“Grandma Pepper would tell you to stop crying because it upsets the owls. You heard about the owls baby? People think they’re just birds, but they’re so much more…”

“…They’re night guardians, you know. Think about it, wings like angels, can see all the way around. They’re lookouts.”

They’d been hiking in the dark, lost on the way home from a camping trip along the Appalachian Trail. Peter was trying to convince Liza not to just sit down and panic until daylight.

“Then why is there always hooting in the background of horror movies?

Peter smiled, reached to grab her hand, “Movies get it all wrong, love. Owls only hoot to say ‘I’m here, this is my spot, and all is clear! They’d fly off if they were uncomfortable. If you hear an owl hoot, means you’ve got a magic night guardian.”

 

“And that’s why you’ve got these cute little owls aaaaall around your room. See them, love?” Liza reached out, pushed the mobil above the crib, covered in pastel woodland creatures. “Let’s name them, here we go.”

The baby cried on.

“This little pink one? Hmm what do you think? Let’s say Mica, shimmery like the rock. Good name, baby, I like it. And this one? Ares! A deer named after the huntress? You’re so smart, sweetie! Great name!”

They went all around the mobil, named each stuffed creature and spoke them to life until they all had personality and purpose.

And somewhere between Benny the Beaver and Rumble the Squirrel, Pepper calmed. She tucked her small body into her mother, turning her head just enough to watch the mobil as it spun her new friends round and around.

Liza sighed into the beautiful quiet. It meant peace, it meant her baby was happy, meant momma had done well.

Momma.

Names. Names are important.

The Word

Maternal (adjective): 1. Relating to a mother, especially during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth. 2. Denoting feelings associated with or typical of a mother; motherly. 3. Related through the mother’s side of the family.

Names ARE important.

Naming characters is hard. Names have lots of meaning, lots of context. You can’t just name somebody Sherlock anymore- that comes along with Holmes. Even simple-sounding names like “Dustin” have reverberation. It means “fighter,” so if I give it to a pacifist, I’m either insinuating, predicting, or being ironic.

So a lot of the time, I do extensive research into names. Other times, I just go with what sounds right. Because I adhere to Aunt Susie’s theory, that some names just sound correct in a context, and others do not.

When my parents named me, they took lots into consideration. How does one honor the past generations while not creating a labor for the future ones? I love my name. And I’ll admit, I’m REALLY glad they didn’t follow the trend of a cousin branch- where the youngest son is named Woodrow, shortened to Woody, and then to Twig. I would not have done well with Twiggy (modeling isn’t really my thing).

But those title-names are important too. My parents’ names are Mom and Dad. Short, sure, strong- just the way we needed them to be when we called from the play set we’d fallen off, or the stove where we overflowed the rice cooker, or our college dorm where we panicked.

My oldest brother was the oldest of all the grandkids, so he got to name all the grandparents: Grandma, Grandpa, Nanna, Poppa- those were both names and titles, and they suited each individual perfectly.

Liza is learning to be a mom without the person she assumed would be the dad. Wait, let me rephrase that: Liza is learning she is Momma, and that baby Pepper needs just that. Some names we’re given, some names we earn, some we grow into.

What name are you growing into, reader?