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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I love my baby. And my other baby. And my other baby.

The other day O. looked up from his pile of Lincoln Log rubble and asked “Mama, why do mans call womans ‘baby’?”

At first his question seemed to come from left field, but I quickly realized that my Old Man and I had recently wrapped up a quotidian conversation during which he had probably referred to me by one of several terms of endearment he routinely graces me with, the classic “baby.” It made sense that this would confuse a four-year-old kid, especially one for whom the recent arrival of a baby sister has made the word “baby” take on all sorts of new and concrete associations.

I tried to explain why “baby” is a common term of endearment, reminding O. that I sometimes call him “baby,” too. But, as so often happens when a kid inquires into some mystery of adult behavior, I wasn’t really able to explain adequately. For one thing, it’s totally different when I call O. “baby” and when I call my Old Man “baby.”

It was odd not to be able to explain to O. why it makes sense for a grown man to call his best beloved “baby,” because it was when O. was a baby that I really came to understand why this is such a powerful and enduring term of endearment. (Or at least can be. Like many powerful and enduring things, it gets used lightly and not very lovingly all the time.)

My Old Man and I have been calling each other “baby” since our early days. I started it. Even though I’d never used “baby” as an endearment, it just sort of came naturally to call him that. And though he’d always thought of it as a cheesy epithet, coming from me he suddenly found it touching. Pretty soon he was calling me “baby,” too. The name became part of the fabric of our love, and I accepted it without thinking about it much.

When O. was born, it suddenly made sense why “baby” is such a common endearment used between people in love. Spending time with my newborn son felt very much like falling in love, and those early days reminded me a lot of the beginning phases of an intense romantic relationship. And now that I’m in that intense phase with Roo, I’m reminded of it all over.

What more powerful way to metaphorize the intensity with which you love your grown-up loved one than to liken them to your baby, that little adored being that is literally a part of you? It can seem so icky, sleazy, or infantilizing when the wrong person calls you “baby,” but coming from the right person, it makes sense. After all, I think my baby is beautiful even though her head might be a bit misshapen and her face peppered with infant acne. I can’t stop kissing her. I love the way she smells. I think about her constantly, and feel sad when I’ve been apart from her for too long. When we're alone together, it feels like we're in our own little world. I allow her into my bed and let her suck on my nipples ‘til they’re raw. And, I continue to be crazy about her even when she inadvertently shits on me. Sounds like love, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I’m sure some people think “baby” is a bizarre thing to call another adult, however much you dig them. But there is a certain compelling logic. And there’s no accounting for taste when it comes to endearments. For example, even though “baby” works for me, I find “babe” humorous and silly sounding (maybe because I associate it with Sonny Bono).

So, what are your favorite endearments, and have you ever contemplated what makes them powerful for you?


Blogger Orange said...

I said "pookie" many years ago. And then I decided to reuse the name for my Mac's hard drive, and alas, that took the sweet endearment right out of it.

For my son, I got 'em all—baby, honey, sweetie, beautiful.

My sister- and brother-in-law have long called each other sweetie, to the point that he'd address her birthday card to Sweetie. Aww.

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

B. and I call each other Sweetie, but it's always been the case that I'm "Big Sweetie" and he's "Little Sweetie." We also sign notes to each other "SKS," which stands for "Sweetie K. Sweetie." I don't think we've ever determined what the "K" stands for...

yr ma

6:50 PM  
Blogger Feral Mom said...

Love this post. Other than "Irish bitch" which is my favorite endearment for select friends, I like "honey." The only other person who called me that was my Grandma, and I miss it. So I use it liberally, both with my beloved, and our beloved spawn. It's sweet, and warm, and bears like it.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous sarah sue said...

My husband and I decided early on that we were going to grow old together, and one day tripped out on how old people call each other grandma and grandpa, so we tried it out on each other. We are totally grandma and grandpa to each other and it's totally one of those private weird nicknames. It's morphed into gramps and gram.
I hate it when the 20 year old serving me coffee calls me honey. Drives me nuts. One time I was robbed at gunpoint and the guy called me honey. I only didn't say something because he had a gun...otherwise I would have let him have it!

7:34 PM  

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