I’m Her Mommy, She’s My Mami

Baby has been at daycare ever since she was a mere 2 1/2 months old. It really bothered me to leave her in daycare so soon, but since Hubby and I do need my extra paycheck and benefits from my full-time job, off she went. She has always been in the warm environs of family daycare. Just a handful of kids ate, napped and played together all the time. We live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, which means she has always had Latina caregivers, and Spanish is a growing part of her expanding vocabulary.

First there was Sula, a warm, efficient and bustling woman who always kept the kids content and her house super tidy. When Baby was tiny enough for the car seat and we rested her on Sula’s kitchen counter, Baby would greet her by arching her back and poking out her belly, a gesture for Sula to lift her up. Sula always chirped something like “mamita” to the girls (actually, Baby was the only girl in her set) or “papito” to the boys. If the children ever cried or fussed, she soothed them saying “mi amor.” Her second family care provider was Nina, a Puerto Rican woman. The situation was similar, but Nina spoke more English than Sula.

All of this happened as Baby learned to talk. When she said what sounded like “mommy,” I thought she was calling for me. But Hubby pointed out that Baby could be repeating the Spanish “mami,”repeating the term her Spanish-speaking caregivers use for her. It’s funny how that term has so many meanings. I’ve heard it used in a provocative way to describe voluptuous girls, and something much more harmless and even charming—when done properly, of course!

I like the fact that Baby can express herself in two languages. (Soon to be a third, as I am determined to share some French with her.) When she can’t pronounce ‘bread,’ she might asked for ‘pan-ney’. When she first learned to talk, the letter w gave her trouble, so she said ‘ag-aaa’ in what we thought was baby Spanish while reaching for her bottle or training cup.

Baby is in nursery school now, and the same Spanish-speaking caregiver scene is unfolding. The teacher is a kind young Latina, and there are two assistants to give all the kids lots of personal attention. Baby has taken a particular liking to one assistant, Miss Carmen. Baby greets her with a hug in the mornings, follows her around the large, cheerfully decorated classroom, and nestles in Miss Carmen’s arms as she is rocked to sleep before nap time. Despite the fact that I can’t be home with her more often, we’ve been lucky to have Baby situated with great people.

On a recent Saturday, in fact, I was trying to get Baby to count her toes with me. She was fiddling with one of her infant burp clothes, which had three flowers stitched in. I didn’t realize until after I played back the recording, but I think she was attempting to count the three flowers in Spanish! Take a listen and see: Three Flowers

Nowadays, whenever Baby says “mommy,” I know she is calling for me and not using Spanish slang. We went through a call and response phase when she would repeat “maa-aa-mee” and I answered “yes, Sweet Pea,” for minutes and minutes on end. It didn’t annoy me at all. I even look forward to the day when she can understand the difference between the English “mommy” and the Spanish one, and enjoys calling me by both. When used properly, of course!


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