mama in the waiting room


I glanced past Peter to the child sitting on his grandmother’s lap. The barefoot boy looked about eighteen months old. The two buttons of his juice-stained polo shirt were undone, his hair was tousled and his chubby cheeks were flushed.

“Mama,” he whined again.

Everyone knew why the toddler was there at the clinic and his mother was not. “You’re burning up,” the grandmother had declared during her dramatic entrance into the waiting room. She had then conversed with clinic’s receptionist as if she were an actress projecting the lines of a tragedy to the back of the theater. “His mother is a teacher. She has to get coverage before she can come here. He has a fever, and his ears are red,” she announced.

“It will be at least an hour’s wait to see the doctor,” the receptionist responded.

Peter leaned over to me. “She said it would be an hour.”

I nodded and patted my impatient husband’s leg reassuringly as the woman took a seat to wait.

The performance over, everyone returned to their previous sources of entertainment: watching an afternoon talk show, playing with smart phones, scrawling on patient history forms, staring at empty prescription bottles, analyzing the carpet.

“Mama, mama,” the boy cried louder this time, rejecting his grandmother’s attempts to soothe and stage-whispered assurances that his mom would be there soon.

“Why doesn’t she take him to the emergency room?” complained an equally voluble curmudgeon to his wife. “If he’s that sick, he should be seen right away. And then the rest of us won’t have to suffer.” He punctuated his disapproval by stuffing cotton in his ears.

“Mama. Maaama!” The crescendoing wails began affecting everyone in the waiting room.

Peter shifted beside me. The couple to my right exchanged glances and gave small shakes of their heads. The next patient called sprinted to reach the serenity of an exam room.

“Mama. Mama! Maaa-maaa!” he shrieked.

I blinked back tears.

The boy’s face was now a fiery red, either from fever or crying. His distress triggered my maternal instinct, making me long to comfort him.

Unfortunately, the wails pounding my eardrums jarred loose another feeling: jealously.


Before I could stop myself, I thought, “My son has never called me mama.”

Hearing this boy, a child younger than my own, speak with such ease, hurt.

I became even more desperate not to cry.

To the relief of everyone in the waiting room, the mother arrived. After a few final sniffles, the child stopped crying. The waiting room was left in relative silence.

I was left brooding.

Guilt at my selfishness threatened to loosen my tears once more. I stared hard at the corner where the tan wallpaper met the beige ceiling until I regained my composure. In the quiet, I recalled the countless ways that Philip shows me he loves me, his actions more honest than any words could be.

But for one moment, I forgot all that. All I could think was that my son doesn’t call me mama.

He never has.

54 thoughts on “mama in the waiting room

    1. It’s not, but it also isn’t the end of the world. There’s always someone we can find that has it worse. I’m lucky for all the joy my little guy brings me, words or not.


  1. You described that scene perfectly. I could feel your yearning and conflicting emotions. I don’t think it’s selfish at all! You want the best for your son, and it seems like he has the greatest mother in the world! I really like how your writing is so honest.


  2. No need to feel guilt. Being vulnerable opens you up to empathy. Words are often needed, one’s way to be heard or expressed. Yet, in the silence we can also “hear” the words. If you listen…you hear him calling you mama everyday. You are a fantastic mother. Your posts remind us everyday of patience, empathy and passion. Mama, you make us proud – never defend what you feel! It’s okay to be expressive there mama! It’s definitely ok!


  3. Your son loves you in a million ways every day, even though he cannot say it. And please don’t feel guilty for wanting something like that — I remember when I was struggling with infertility and every friend’s pregnancy announcement made me want to bawl. It’s OK to feel like that.


  4. That brought tears to my eyes too. I always start to tear up when I hear a child cry for his mom like that. And its funny how our minds wander into something else when something makes us feel uncomfortable.


      1. Naw …don’t feel silly. I almost cried the other night at my son’s baseball game when one of the kids got hit really hard in the arm with a baseball. The kid screamed and teared up and I almost lost it.

        I think its something that us moms do.


  5. It hits my gut when you call yourself selfish. You aren’t selfish in my eyes. You want what millions of mothers take for granted (including me) and you have every right to want that. as always, well told.


  6. Not selfish, not selfish at all. Natural. I’m tearing up, feeling your pain. I can’t imagine what it’s like.


  7. Beautifully written:) like so many others have said….you are not being selfish. As a mom of a little boy who was non-verbal too…I remember feeling that way too. It will come…..every word is precious but our kids communicate in so many other ways too. Just know its okay to feel this way *hugs*


      1. To this day I keep reminding myself that my son communicates in many different ways. I think what MORE THAN WORDS taught me was to how to turn everything we do in ordinary circumstances and try to get interactions and build on them. Interactions are not always words but that little glance in our direction, the body language changing, offering us a toy, pointing etc. Its through that back and forth that we do naturally but even with or without words that kids can learn to communicate. I read about lots of interactions you are having with Phillip already and that is a big foundation to build on. With my son SLP’s have found that he knows language (receptive and expressive) but has Apraxia so now we know what has held him back and basically his neuropathways needed to be ready to make his mouth, tongue and jaw work. I am trying to write more about our communication journey and share whatever I can. 🙂


  8. oooh. 😦 😦 I could cry right now. this was so raw, so honest, so beautifully written. it’s not the same, but I had a similar situation happen to me several years ago as I waited to see the doctors tell me my pregnancy was no more while watching all these couples looking at ultrasound pictures.


  9. OH, I do understand that. My kids are awesome. But their words came in late. My daughter’s, when they did arrive,were all echoes for over a year. My son’s just fell slowly into place. Whenever I hear some prattling toddler jabbering away in his or her own private language, I feel a flash of longing, wondering what my kids voices would have been like.


  10. You’re not being selfish. Not one iota. Every mother wants to hear those words. You so beautifully conveyed your feelings that I felt them to and I’m sending you hugs.


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