So is it ‘Mr.?’ ‘Ms.?’ “Mrs.?’ What do we call grownups?

Published in the Duluth News Tribune


The kindergarten experience can be quite stressful for children.  And my experience led me to a lifetime of uncertainty.

Parents weren’t worried about preschool and prekindergarten screenings because academic learning started at school with a teacher who was professionally trained.   And after five years of negotiating nap time, food selections, and basically arguing over everything under the sun, parents were typically happy to hand over the reins.  To someone more qualified.   At least that is what I think my mom was thinking about me.

We lived one block from school, but I took the shortcut anyways.  I could see the playground from my porch and usually the neighbors didn’t mind when my big brothers and I cut across their lawns.

Mrs. Dunn was my teacher.  I heard lots of wonderful things about her from my big brothers.  It was different being surrounded by 20-plus children my age.  I was excited to make friends.  But good gosh, the fairy tale came to an end when my nice teacher sat us all down for our circle time.

We stated our names.  That was easy.  I wasn’t even nervous.

“Now I want you to tell me your mother’s name . . . ,” Mrs. Dunn instructed.

I sat and listened until it came to my turn.

“Mamma,” I said with confidence.  I turned my head to the left, and listened for my new friend’s answer.  My friend was staring at me.

“Doris,” the teacher spoke, halting the momentum.  “I know you call your mother mamma, but what I wanted you to tell me is, what is your mother’s name?”

“Mamma,” I said, louder that time.  Everyone was looking at me.  I watched the teacher smile as she scribbled something on her notepad.  “Next?!”  And the circle sharing time continued.

“My name is Marion,” my mother explained later with a spatula in her hand.  She was busy frying pork chops for supper while holding my baby sister, Laurie, on her hip.  The dryer buzzed and the laundry stopped tumbling.  “Marion.”

“Oh.”  The name Marion did sound familiar.  It wasn’t as commonly used as Mrs. Larson, which is what my friends called my mother.  On our block we had a Mrs. Nagro, Mrs. Schmidt, Mrs. Lynch, and Mrs. Setzke.  That was how we addressed the neighborhood moms back then.  We probably would have been spanked, gotten our mouths washed out with soap, or for me, gotten some time in my special time-out chair if we addressed an adult with their first names.

It took me awhile to pass that first kindergarten test.  But by the time I got my report card, I was able to recite both of my parents’ names.  But that of course led to my next problem.

At what age do we start calling our neighborhood moms by their first names?  I’ll never forget the first time my childhood pal Jodi, said to my mother, “Well hello Marion!”

Jodi was an adult at the time, but Marion?!  Did that mean I had to call her mom Joan instead of Mrs. Nagro?  Heck, my mother still referred to Joan as Mrs. Nagro in my presence.  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  But after actively listening to how the rest of my neighborhood peers addressed the adults, I thought maybe it was disrespectful not to.

The honorifics of Mr. and Mrs. are becoming a thing of the past.  I blame us baby-boomers for that.  When someone addresses me as Mrs. Rauschenbach, I feel old.

The first known use of Mr. dates back to 1551.   Although the use of Mr. and Mrs. was the means to address the grown-ups when I was a child, the adults in this new century don’t want it.  We seem to be at the crossroad and in need of something new, yet we haven’t determined what it is we want.

I would bet the youth today are more unclear than ever in knowing what is expected of them.  At least for now, a child is still required to use some variation of Mom when addressing their mother.  Most of us agree it would be considered disrespectful not to, but then again, I’m not completely certain of that.

Photo Gallery

Leave a Comment