Like the Eskimos, who purportedly use dozens of words for “snow,” my daughter has developed countless ways to whine. Although instead of using lots of words to do it, she uses only one: “Mama.”

She was around 4 months old when she started saying “Dada.” While I was tickled for my husband that he got to experience the joy of her verbal love, I was envious, and anxiously awaited my turn to hear her tenderly coo my name, too. Hindsight being 20/20, had I known then that she would eventually use my name as affectionately as someone trying to scrape dog poo from the bottom of a soiled shoe, I might have wished instead that she waited until leaving for college before getting on a first-name basis with me.

I’m not sure exactly when it was in her little mind that “Mama” became synonymous with “I want,” “I need” and “I have to have it, like, five minutes ago or you’ll be working out a lifetime payment plan with my therapist,” but the die has undoubtedly been cast.

She uses “Mama” repeatedly to indicate the TV is either not turned on or not tuned to the channel that showcases a trio of extinct colored reptiles who bizarrely spend all their time dancing and singing with small children. Or she uses it to suggest that if she’s not given a handful of blueberries or a dish of applesauce by the next time she blinks, she might just have to alert Child Protective Services. Sometimes she just screams it for no apparent reason, although I suspect it could be a statement of protest against genocide in Rwanda, or Lindsay Lohan’s jail sentence.

Sometimes when she says “Mama” it has a double meaning. Like, “Mama! I threw my crayon on the floor. Pick it up now!” and, at the same time, “Mama! Miraculously fix the crayon I just broke by deliberately dropping it on the floor, now!” An untrained ear might not pick up the nuance of that particular one-two “Mama” punch, but I’m quite attuned to it. It’s hard not to be when she does it at a volume that regularly tests the mettle of my eardrums and what’s left of my sanity.

At a dance class for toddlers last week, she spent the first half crying because her Barney had been inadvertently left in the car. “Mama! Mama!” she wailed over and over, until which time her stuffed purple playmate was retrieved and brought in to strut and pout alongside the tutu- and leotard-clad tykes. I wasn’t actually there at the class, but apparently even in my absence, it’s my fault.

We’ve tried to get her to say “Help” or “Please” or “Hungry” or whatever word she actually means, instead of “Mama,” but without much success. On the occasions she says please (or “peeeee-ze”), she does it with a little laugh, as if to say, “OK, I’ll play your little reindeer games, but prepare yourself, because after your stupid word crosses my lips, the ‘Mama’ deluge.”

A lot of times when she genuinely wants me, she doesn’t use my name. Instead she buries her head in my crotch, plants her feet on top of mine, throws her arms around my legs and clings for dear life until I pick her up. If I try to put her down, she puckers her face in distress and cries out, “Ma noooooo!” It’s not “Mama,” but it’s a close second.

Fortunately when she intentionally addresses me directly, she says “Mom-eeeeeeee,” not “Mama.” And when she bounds over to me with an impish smile, wiggles her little fingers in my direction and giggles, “Tickle Mom-eeeeeeee,” it almost makes up for the incessant verbal “Mama” abuse that will follow in due course. Almost, but not quite.

“It’s just a phase,” my husband said to me the other day. “Won’t you miss hearing it once she learns to use other words?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Like Europe missed being under German rule after the end of World War II.”

Since she’s been throwing fits worthy of a 2 year old on steroids for at least the last six months, I can’t imagine how the actual terrible twos are going to transpire when she reaches the milestone next month. I’ve been thinking with the trajectory she’s on, it has the potential to involve guns, heroin or the occult. Or maybe we can just teach her to go back to saying “Dada” exclusively instead.

At this point I’m just about on the verge of legally relinquishing any claims to the “Mama” franchise, so any of those scenarios would be fine with me.

More at meredithcarroll.com.

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