News reports leading up to Mother’s Day were obsessed with one specific breast: that pictured on the cover of Time Magazine. Despite the media hype, it makes sense since the word “mother” originates from the root “mamma,” or breast.
But you don’t have to breastfeed, or even give birth to be called “mom.” You’re given that mammary moniker by exuding qualities associated with motherhood.
I strapped on my maternal training wheels when I agreed to be a stepmother. My own kids call their older half-sister’s biological mom (my ex-husband’s first wife) their “second mother,” since she, too, made a nurturing space for them in her life. My eldest child introduced me to another soul-mother via marriage. His mother-in-law added me to her family circle by raising an exceptional young woman who adores my boy, and embraces mine as her own. You can put “step” before or “in-law” after, but it’s always accompanied by some mom-ism.
There are a few minor variations on this revered title. My three, now grown children, address me in different ways. My firstborn summons my attention with the formal “mother” or more familiar “mom.” My middle child, and only girl, chooses the softer “mama” or “memes” (which may or may not relate to how ideas are circulated, but is a nice nod to my professional passion). My third, the baby boy of the bunch, simply calls me “ma.” He says it in a strong tone of voice, one that reminds me of his forceful hugs. These distinct references honor our unique relationships, but still respect my role in their lives.
What about the names used to refer to women’s breasts? I never liked the plain vanilla and boring “mammary,” even though it is the most accurate label for these fleshy appendages. Popular slang favors “boobs,” and why I choose it as the title for my book. That’s modified to “boobies,” which seems too juvenile for my more mature bosom. Yet “bust” is not descriptive enough. “Tits,” “titties, and “ta-tas” are too teat-related for my taste. I’m way past my breastfeeding years and, beside, they mean more to me than simple feeders. It could be why I’m put off by so-called breastaurants, like “Hooters.” They steal what is mine and then limit the scope of what my boobs represent. I may have breastfed, but I never stuck a hooter in my kid’s mouth.
Breast language includes a huge lexicon of names synonymous with produce (melons), containers (jugs), or soft places to rest your head (pillows). They all seem oddly silly, irreverent, and childish to me. Would a mother sport "sweater puppies?" And the most common boob-isms in the dictionary are negative (and oddly related to the name for a slow-moving bird): one acts like a dumb boob, is glued to the mind numbing boob tube, tricked by a false booby-trap, or disappointed by a booby-prize. Why – given the wondrous sexual, spiritual, and loving splendor of our mammary glands – is our vocabulary so rude? Don’t breasts deserve a bit more respect? Just sayin’.