Lana, my middle child, my eleven-year-old, is very much like her mother. She’s particular, she’s precise. She not only makes her (full-sized, canopy-draped) bed every morning, she arranges each and every throw pillow in a prescribed order (a meld of blues and various sizes, she gets the symphony of random just right).
She is an incredible sweetheart, my girl. She is my most tactile child; she always holds my hand when we’re out together, she insists on a hug on the hour, she still sits on my lap whenever possible. She tells me constantly that she loves me - she insists her love for me has such depth I can’t fathom it - I assure her that once she has a child even her great mother love for me will be dwarfed by her passion for her kid - and she tells me in no uncertain terms that I am simply wrong.
Recently she decided that she wants a nickname. “Mom,” she said, “Call me ‘Monkey’ because I was born in the year of the monkey. Call Mae ‘Horsey” because she was born in the year of the horse and Mihiretu “Puppy” because he was born in the year of the dog.” I agreed, half-listening (the kid talks non-stop).
An hour later when I said, “Lana, will you put your shoes on the rack?”, she replied indignantly, “You didn’t use my nickname!”
I tried again. “Monkey, will you put your shoes on the rack?” She was pacified.
That was the one and only time I called her Monkey. I tried to explain to her that you can’t give yourself a nickname - it has to be birthed organically by the namer, usually someone that loves you.
Last Sunday the girls and I were sitting around with our friend, Elizabeth, and her son, Hugo, people we’ve know long and deep. We got on the topic of character traits - what some of our idiosyncratic ones were. Mae, I diagnosed, was a bit of a bull in a china shop at times - something of a blunt instrument, physically - she can hug too hard, she can spaz out and throw herself full-force to the ground for no apparent reason. Lana, we agreed, could be stubborn. But more than that, I elaborated, she could be - and here I paused, choosing my words carefully. She, truth be told, can be a tiny bit bitchy when she’s pissed off. I used precisely this word in precisely this way. Lana laughed in recognition, thank god. Because it’s true. When push comes to shove with that kid she can elevate to a chilly plane from which she imparts cutting, exact punishment.
The next night Mae and Lana and I were watching old episodes of 30 Rock - we’ve been binging lately. Lana got pissed, I can’t remember about what, and Mae said, “Lana, stop being so bitchy!” Ironically, given my own use of the word towards that girl, I have a rule that Mae can’t call Lana a bitch - it happens with some frequency. “Mae!” I said. “Fine,” she said. “Lana, stop being so beepy!”
We all laughed. And now, when Lana gets edgy, we say, “Beepy!” Like when she called me “Fatso” with the simple wish to hurt my feelings when I had just (inadvertently) hurt hers. Like when she tells her brother that we went and saw a movie without him. Like when she insinuates that Mae is a lesbian (which would be fine, if Mae were a lesbian). “Oh, Beepy,” we might say, with a sigh. And then we all laugh, including Lana, the beep evaporating in the warmth.
She got her nickname. It’s not of her choosing but it fits. And it comes directly from our hearts, because we know her so well. We adore her. And she is - the tiniest bit - beepy.