I looked up, annoyed. I’d been engrossed in a New York magazine article while my 5-year-old was in with the dentist. For me, doctors’ offices are like airplanes at 36,000 feet — one of the last few places I can read without guilt because you’re not supposed to use your cell phone — at least according to the signs posted around the office, threatening, in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS, to immediately bounce you from the building if you so much as peek at email. People still do, of course, but I’ll toe that particular line just to grab a few minutes to read something — outside the bathroom no less — not related to any article I’m writing, Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter or The Clone Wars. With fluoride and X-rays, I figured the 20 minutes Fletcher would spend in the chair might just give me enough time to finish the article I was reading. I was nearly done when …
“Fletcher’s Mom.” The dental assistant looked at me, pointedly, impatience creeping into her voice.
I resignedly dog-eared the page. Maybe I’d come back to it later, though I doubted it. More likely, the magazine would join the piles of half-read magazines cluttering my office, the kitchen counter, the downstairs bathrooms, that I keep for a while in the hopes of picking them back up … but that eventually just get tossed in the recycle bin and left at the curb.
Still, that’s wasn’t the source of my annoyance. It was the dental assistant’s choice of words that aggravated me: Fletcher’s Mom. With a single phrase, she’d managed to reduce my entire nuanced, multi-layered identity, fashioned over four and a half decades, to a state of biological guardianship.
I don’t know if this is some national trend, or a more regional phenomenon, but lately I’ve been getting this a lot in doctors offices. Sometimes the staff calls me Fletcher’s Mom. Other times it’s just Mom or — gag — Mommy. Seriously folks, if you didn’t enter this world through my birth canal, calling me Mom is weird and creepy. But beyond that, unless you’re under, say, age 7, calling me Fletcher’s Mom is vaguely insulting. Excuse me, but I was walking the planet for going on 40 years before Fletcher arrived on the scene. How did the genetic connection to my child become my single most-defining attribute?
Call me sensitive. Call me petty. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask for doctors’ assistants to actually call me by the name I use to — hello?!? — sign their bills.
Make no mistake. I love being Fletcher’s mom. The kid wows me daily with his certitude (he’s always right, just ask him) and finely honed negotiating skills (“Mommy, here’s the deal …”). But “Fletcher’s Mom” makes it sound like I spend my days wiping bums and runny noses. Sure, with a kid diverting any attention that I don’t focus on writing, I’ll cop to being more familiar with the Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling than anyone who’s made the New York Times Best Seller list recently. There are weeks when I spend more time looking at Lego Magazine than New York Magazine. I haven’t seen The Artist or Shame, but I do have the dialogue from just about every Pixar film released on DVD committed to memory. And I probably know more about Bionicles and Bakugans than any adult needs to. Ever. But I also know know where my Personal Life fits, neatly, but separately, into my Mom Life. I’m comfortable that, even as I lag a bit on pop culture and political news, I haven’t completely sacrificed my personal self on the altar of motherhood.
In the grand scheme of things, it probably shouldn’t matter what some assistant I see at most twice a year calls me. After all, a rose by any other name, right? Still, this Fletcher’s Mom biz bugs the crap outta of me.
“Mom defines my relationship with my child, not my identity,” I want to snap when these doctors’ assistants, some times even the doctors themselves, take the lazy way out, not troubling themselves to learn their patients’ parents’ names — a pity since we’re the ones who choose the doctors.
But mostly I don’t. Mostly I just stew silently and smile through clenched teeth. But this morning, something about the dental assistant’s attitude was really working on my last nerve. Maybe it was her impatience that I didn’t immediately hop to attention when she called the first time. Maybe I just had too little sleep. Or too much caffeine. Maybe it was just one of those mornings when everything irked me. But as I dog-eared the magazine page, my Inner Bitch sucker-punched my Inner Diplomat. And for one unguarded moment, my temper flared, and I was Howard Beal from Network – mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
“Is there a remote possibility that you actually know my name?” I demanded, loudly enough for the other parents in the waiting room to hear.
The dental assistant, surprised into silence, nodded, dumbly.
“Then use it.”
And with that I strode past her into the exam room to see the dentist.
All right, so this wasn’t exactly a giant leap for mom-kind. And hardly the strongest language I’ve ever used in a confrontation. But I was fairly certain that when it came time for Fletcher’s next dental checkup, here was one doctor’s assistant who’d finally get my name right.
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