My 6-year-old son has a very unusual name, a decision that my husband and I made thoughtfully and only occasionally regret—but that's a topic for another day. I mention the rarity of his name because it's a word that only ever appears to me in one context, like "Cher" or "Obama" or "Cuisinart." (Rest assured, it is none of these.) When I hear or say my son's name, I'm always talking about him. I'll use his initial for right now, though. Because I'm about to make an embarrassing revelation.
It occurred to me when he was having a tough time getting out the door one day.
"A! A!" I heard myself shouting. "A, come down here this minute! A? I'm counting to three, A!"
Behind my irritation, a little voice in my head noted, "That's a lot of times to say A."
That tendency to repeat my son's name is more pronounced when he has difficulty focusing. Since he has ADHD, I often have to make him look me in the eye and give him clear, simple instructions to get him to hear me.
"A, look at me. Look at me, A. Please pick up your socks."
What I began to notice was that I only say his name a lot when I'm angry or frustrated, or asking him to do something.
When my son hears his own name in his head, I would like him to hear it with warmth and pride.
Usually if I'm saying something affectionate, or giving him a compliment, I've noticed that I use a term of endearment—one of those corny things I never called anybody before my son came along. Honey. Baby. Buddy. I call him sweetheart often enough that when he first learned there was a candy called "Sweet Tarts," he looked at me in bewilderment and said, "But that's my name!"
So why don't I think to call him A when all is well?
Maybe it's because I already have his attention. Like dogs, small children have difficulty ignoring someone who calls their name. I don't need to keep on bringing him back to me if we're already on the same page. In fact, that would be weird:
"Great drawing, A. What color are you using next, A? What's this, A, a monster?"
But I'm starting to worry that he may associate his name—something that, for better or worse, will stay with him the rest of his life—with negativity. And that would be very sad.
I'm sure that other parents must be guilty of this, or at least variations of it. I have a good friend whose son Joe used to tell people that Joseph was his "in trouble name." How many of us grew up only hearing our middle names, or our full names, when our parents where shouting at us?
It's such a habit at this point that I don't know if I can change it. It's not like I do it consciously. So—I'm trying to be more conscious. I've been making an effort to use his name when I'm proud of him, when I'm happy about something, when I tell him I love him.
When my son hears his own name in his head, I would like him to hear it with warmth and pride. I can't change what other people might think of his name. But I want him to know that I treasure it, and the amazing person he's becoming. Even when he can't seem to get his shoes on.