Don’t call me ma’am

Years ago when we were first dating,  I would fly from New York to Virginia to visit the Captain, then Lieutenant.  I loved the formality of the ARMY post.   Compared to the chaos of Manhattan,  post was neat, orderly and exceedingly polite.  But I was young and tried to thwart the “Yes and No  ma’am”s from his soldiers.   “Please call me, Leah”  “Ok Leah, ma’am” was the typical response.    I didn’t like it.   At 23,  the ma’am made me feel old.    The “ma’am”s continued for a year and a half until he got out of the service.  

We have always loved the track.  We dress up and wear hats.  I always bet the 2 and 8 exacta in the 9th race,  our anniversary.    As we sit in the club peering through binoculars him sipping scotch and me Tom Collins,  we fantasize about owning horses and the names we would bestow.   His would be “Full Head O’Hair”  and mine would be “Don’t call me ma’am”.     

My neighbor and I recently had the conversation about what we wanted to be called by the children.   The kids are talking now (well,  at least her’s is while Finn is content to point and grunt).  Her son at 2.5 calls me “Neah”, which I find hopelessly endearing, and he fully understands that “John” is my better half.  We are a pair, “John and Neah”, like salt and pepper.  But if we are going to change to Mr. and Mrs. Kane or take the southern approach, Mr. John and Miss Leah, we better make it snappy.   

This lead to rather lenghty discussion at the dinner table with the Captain about who we are going to be.  A recap:

1)  We grew up calling all of our parent’s friends Mr. and Mrs.   A good friend’s mother insists I call her by her firstname.   She is a former nun.  I don’t argue with her… but everytime I say her name I feel a slight shiver like I have done something wrong. 

2) It is about respect.  He reminded me of the “neighborhood watch” incident from last summer.   Kids need to know the difference between us and them.    

3)  A good friend is a teacher at the grade school that Finn will attend.   She may or may not be teaching by the time he gets there,  but we can’t very well have him shouting out her firstname in the hallways.   We have to teach him now so it is not confusing later.   

John promptly called our neighbor to tell her he would like the be called “Captain Kane.”   Kids love it and John relishes in the fact that it is a moniker befitting a super-hero.   I decided that her son’s sweet little “Neah” greeting would be grandfathered in but that going forward with other little people I will be Mrs. Kane.   I know.   I have to get used to it myself.   Mrs. Kane is my mother-in-law,  whom I love dearly,  but it still feels like another person.   I realized that I just have to own it and be my own Mrs.    There are plenty of interesting Mrs’ out there.   I could be a sexy Mrs. Robinson or a secretive Scarecrow and Mrs. King or a sassy Mrs.  Heathcliff Huckstable.   

So what do you want to be Mrs. Lastname, Miss Firstname, or just your firstname?   Oh and I guess you can call me ma’am.  


9 Responses to “Don’t call me ma’am”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Mrs. It’s a sign of respect. I still call my neighbors on the street (unless they’re in my age bracket), Mr. & Mrs. So-and-So.

  2. nutmeg Says:

    Isn’t it strange how suddenly there’s a choice? When I was little I didn’t even know the first names of most of my mom’s friends. I like Mr. and Mrs. I hate being called Miss Meg. My kids don’t even say ‘aunt’ before my sisters’ names unless they’re reminded. We’re clearly off to hell in a handbasket!

  3. Allison Says:

    My husband is from New Orleans and he insists the kids call our friends and other adults Mr, Miss and Ms with First Names unless the person is over 60. Oddly that doesn’t seem to come up with us. When I was growing up all adults were Mr/Mrs lastname.

    I did completely embarrass a man from my childhood church a few years ago. He’s a well-known fiscal conservative in public policy circles and I had just started working in the State House. I saw him with a bunch of colleagues, all his contemporaries (meaning 20 to 25 years older than me), and I said a chipper “HI Mr. lastname!” all respectful. Which led to EVERYONE busting into hysterics and him muttering a plea “Please call me Mike.”

    Ten years later, I still stumble over calling him Mike.

  4. sarah Says:

    We called everyone by their first names growing up. But then, my parents were damn hippies…

    Arch thinks the boy should call HIM “sir” so we’ll see what happens to the rest of the grown-ups.

    How did we become grown-ups, btw?

  5. Melissa Says:

    I prefer to be called by my first name, though I ask my friends and neighbors how they prefer to be addresses rather than assume anything (I have some formal neighbors!!!).

  6. Lizzy Says:

    i’m a little late to the party here… but what an interesting post.

    i grew up calling my friends parents’ mr and mrs. i also was taught to make a phone call with the opening greeting “hello mrs. smith, this is First Name Last Name. may i please speak with So and So?”

    then when i got to high school, albeit a liberal public school outside of boston, i was to call my teachers by their first names…

    i think, if pressed, i’d prefer to be miss lizzy if other parents don’t share my okayness with being called by my name.

  7. Dad Says:


    What about Mr. D and Mrs. D? It has worked for 30 years with our friends for you and JP… and their children with Mom and me. I think it has the perfect balance of respect and familiarity.

  8. opinionatedasallgetout Says:

    Once you’re an adult, regardless of how old you are, you are a peer to other adults. That being the case, there is no need to continue calling your parents friends Mr. and Mrs. whomever, or sir or ma’am. That’s what so wonderful about being a grown up. You can tell your parents to go f* themselves if they’re being unreasonable and you can tell their friends the same thing. You’re a grown up. Embrace it, own it. Give up the little childhood habits of cowtowing to people who happen to be a little older.

  9. Victor Zahar Says:

    Great post, I bookmarked your site so I can visit again in the future, All the Best, Victor Zahar

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