Nicknames

Children 1, 2, 3, and 4. All mine. All victims of the nickname gene I inherited from my mother.

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Some moms avoid nicknames, either on principle or because they just don’t have the nickname chip. Me, I must have gotten an extra chip when they were handing them around, because I am an inveterate nickname giver. Always have been. When my oldest (now nineteen) was little, he answered to Clavey, Claveman, Choochi, and Mr. B. (for Mr. Baby), among other things. Both of my girls responded (indeed, still respond) to Dollie, Sweets, My Sweet, and Beauty. And my youngest: he’s Goose, a reference to the goose eggs he wore around on his forehead as a result of trying (and often failing) to keep up with his older brother when he was a toddler.

Those who find nicknames either silly or infantilizing miss the point. And, just to clarify, I’m not talking about nicknames that denigrate the child. However, coming (as they so often do) from a place of affection inside the giver, nicknames signal happy moments. After all, mothers seldom invoke them when they’re frustrated; they do it when they’re at ease with their child and themselves. My own mother called me Peanut. Or Pumpkin. Or Beckola. She’s been gone these fourteen years now, and I still feel a ripple of joy when I remember her voice saying “Dearie,” another one of her endearments for me.

True, sometimes I’ve had to be called out for using a nickname at a completely inappropriate time. Mr. Goose (yes, I’m beyond rehabilitation) had to have a chat with me one afternoon, after I’d thoughtlessly called him Goose in front of the after-school crowd, which was getting up a game of soccer on the lawn out in front of the second grade classrooms. Yikes! You’d have thought I was standing there shellacked in Viva Glam and blowing him big kisses, he was that mortified. So we had the talk–later, when it was quiet, of course. He’s always been one to stage his child-parent confrontations carefully. And he calmly pleaded with me not . . . to use . . . “Goose” anywhere near the playground. I agreed that he was not being unreasonable, and so we came to an understanding.

So, yeah. Time and place. Certainly. Very important.

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Tell me, then. What nicknames do your kids answer to? I might just have to award a tube of Viva Glam lipstick to the mom whose nickname cache is the most inspired.

(Photos: The Eleven O’Clock Kids dead-panning it in Budapest, Hungary.)

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