Susan Reimer opens this morning’s column about the perils of motherhood thus: “Any mom worth her carpool car keys will recognize Elizabeth, the fraught and embattled mother in Anne Lamott's new book, ‘Imperfect Birds.’ "
Gradually, over the past couple of decades, mom has become an acceptable synonym for mother in journalism — no longer thought to be too casual, informal or personal.
I don’t much care for it, though I have schooled myself to endure it as an editor. But it’s a minor irritation, like my grumpiness that the Realtors have snookered journalists into writing home instead of house. I don’t think that the irritation is a residue of my having read Philip Wylie’s diatribe against “Momism” in Generation of Vipers. (One of the benefits of youthful unsupervised reading is the development of skill in spotting crackpots.)
No, it’s a preference for a little more formality that puts me out of step with the times.* You call her “Mom,” but I will refer to her as “your mother.” (“Your mother” is how I speak of Kathleen to Alice and J.P., and it is also how my father spoke of my mother to my sisters and me.) Just as you may call him “Pop-pop,” but I will refer to your grandfather. You have discarded courtesy titles, but I will continue mistering. You may like to mention political figures by their nicknames, but I am not intimate with the great.
Two things to be said for formality are that it offers respect and that it creates a distance within which genuine intimacy can be recognized and treasured.
*I hear your gasp at this revelation.