Friday, July 3, 2009

Okaasan, okaasan, wherefore art thou?

At about the same time we returned to our house in Seattle, I noticed Peanut referring to me as (and occasionally addressing me as) "Okaasan." I find this interesting because I've never referred to myself as anything other than "Mama" and most of Gboy's relatives in Japan did the same. Gboy was probably the only person that she heard refer to me as Okaasan and that was maybe 50% of the time, the other 50% of the time he uses Mama when talking about me. And yet here we are with Peanut using Okaasan quite often when talking about me to Gboy or when she's by herself in her crib for example.

What I find most conflicting about this is that it was hard enough for me to adjust to being "Mama" in the first place. The whole idea of being someone's mother, especially since we had to wait for a while to have her in our lives making it almost unreal when she finally was, seemed foreign to me. Add to that the idea that I think of "Okaasan" as Gboy's mother since that's what the whole family calls her, and we have a strange mix. I don't think of myself as Okaasan at all. Peanut may as well be calling me Fred. I tried to explain this to my husband and he was really surprised to hear this. I reminded him that while the name "Okaasan" means something quite familiar and perhaps comfortable to him (having grown up with it all his life) it's unfamiliar to me. Furthermore, there's something frustrating about having someone else (or some other culture) dictate the terms of part of my relationship with my daughter which is sort of how this whole thing feels.

I'm able to see that there's something sweet about the fact that she's attached to me such that she'll call me both Mama and Okaasan to see which will get her the results she wants - i.e. me. I'm also able to see that this is just one of many of the interesting situations we're bound to run into in a bilingual/bicultural family. And for that I'm grateful; I'm grateful that Peanut has been exposed to both languages so much that she has a broad vocabulary of both English and Japanese already.


  1. That is very interesting - especially since she is doing it now that you are in the US. Do you think she misses Japan and her family there?

    Although I understand some of your frustration as I love Champ calling me "Mummy" and prefer it to any other name he could call me, I think it is adorable to picture a little todler calling out "Okaasan".

  2. I have to agree with Red... when I was reading, I was smiling as I tried to imagine a little toddler saying Okaasan! But I can imagine why it is a bit unsettling to you. We take our identity and relationship as Mom very seriously, and the word itself plays an important role in that.

  3. This is interesting, and it's an angle that I definitely would like to hear more about as her speech continues to progress.

    You came back to the States just in time. Visit my blog to find out why!

  4. I hear you!!! Jun called Ryu "Daddy" for the first...long time. Now, suddenly, he is otoosan. Of course, he is used to that word, but...I don't feel the heart strings pull or ring when she calls me Okaasan. Lately I have become "Mom", influenced by the cousins, I think. I hope "Mama" comes back into use now that we are back in Japan! (Had a 5 hour layover in Seattle. Was wishing you were there!!! SMILE!)