Sally Carrera is a sky-blue Porsche who lives in a sleepy town off Route 66 called Radiator Springs. After abandoning her life as a hot-shot attorney in Los Angeles, she opened a tiny motel and joined crew of rag-tag, run-down vehicles.
Moms of young kids might know Sally best as Lightning McQueen’s love interest. For two years of my life, in a season of motherhood I certainly never saw coming, I was Sally.
Before my first son, Ian, was born, we were given a copy of The Big Book of Things that Go. I set it on the bookshelf in the nursery we were preparing, with no idea where it would lead. Less than a year later, when Ian was still a wobbly sitter, he would open the book and lay it on the gray carpet in front of him, turning page after page (except boats—he skipped the boats). He’d gleefully point out each vehicle with his dimply baby fingers, and we’d practice saying the name of each one.
On that nursery floor, spending hours within the covers of that book, a transportation obsession was born.
For Christmas, right after his brother was born, Ian’s Aunt Ashley (a Disney addict herself) gifted him Cars on Bluray. It’s a rather boring Pixar movie, to be honest, about a superstar rookie race car named Lightning McQueen. En route to a big race in California one night, McQueen’s transport truck, Mack, grows sleepy, causes an accident, and McQueen ends up stranded in Radiator Springs. There, he meets people (er, vehicles) like Mater and, of course, Sally Carrera.
I fell asleep the first time we watched it. (I’m not sure whether that was due to the depths of the newborn stage or the drudgery of the film, but no matter.) Ian was hooked. For days, we did nothing but eat, sleep, and “Play Lightning!” His imagination carried him into Pixar’s fictional world of Piston Cup racing and Radiator Springs, and he wanted my husband and me to join him there.
“Dad can be Mack,” he said, “because Mack is the biggest.”
“Mom, you can be Sally, because Sally is a girl.
“And I will be Lightning.” Of course.
We sped from the kitchen to the living room and back again. He looked for the matchbox car whose paint job most closely resembled the movie characters, and we drove them across the carpet-turned-racetrack. (Left turns only.) I perfected my “vrooommmm” and brake-screeching sound effects.
Then, at bedtime each night, Ian began to demand that my husband carry him on his back upstairs. “You’re Mack, remember? You have to transport me in your semi-trailer.”
When he’d been safely parked beneath the covers, we’d whisper, “Good night, Ian.”
“I’m not Ian! I’m Lightning.”
In the mornings, I was greeted with warm hugs, bedhead, and, “Good morning, Sally!”
Then, “Sally, come play with me.”
“Sally, can I have a snack?”
At the end of the day he’d call, “Sally! Mack is home!”
We were at the library one day, where I was sitting and talking with another mom I knew from church. Ian came running up with a Cars book in hand and said, “Hey, Sally, can you read this to me?”
“What did he call you?” my friend asked, laughing.
“Oh, Sally.” In that moment, I realized that weeks had gone by since he had called us “Mama” or “Dada” or any variation. I smiled and told my friend, “I’m Sally right now.”
And Sally I remained…for two whole years.
With each of my three children, the newborn phase has also been the “Lindsey speaks in third person” phase.
“Mama needs to warm up her coffee…”
“Mama’s just going to put you down for a second.”
“Don’t cry! Mama’s here.”
I’ve noticed I am not the only woman who does this. The only possible explanation I can think of is that we are doubling down on our names, making sure our babies know exactly who we are. We clamor for “Mama” to be their first word and when they say the dog or the neighbor’s name first, we vent to our husbands over dinner and bemoan their misappropriated affection on Facebook. We lean over the changing table and touch their perfect button noses with our own, chanting, “Mama! Mama!” like a drum beat.
We are no Romeos. If you asked us what’s in a name, we’ll tell you: an awful lot. Some of us dreamed since childhood of the day our names would change, not in marriage, but in motherhood. Others of us cried in doctors’ offices and in the shower, waiting and waiting to become what that name signified–a mother. What’s in a name? Oh, just our hopes and dreams and love and connection.
Still, I have been known to furiously turn off the radio and shout into the back of the minivan, “No one is allowed to say my name again until we get home!” Sometimes, I stand in the kitchen and beg, “Please go ask Dad.” I sigh after they shout my name for the tenth time, letting out an exasperated, “WHAT?! I’m trying to cook!”
It’s possible I’m simply nostalgic because Ian has outgrown the (admittedly, very long) Cars phase and moved on to sea creatures. It’s also possible that parenting is more exhausting these days. But could it be true that when I was “Sally,” I never grew tired of my name?
I was hiding in the bathroom recently, watching a design blogger chronicle her home renovation on Instagram stories. She explained that they were tearing up the porch that day and said, “The builders even brought out an excavator today!”
My immediate thought was, “It’s not an excavator. It’s a skid-steer loader.”
I learned a thing or two from The Big Book of Things That Go. I learned a bit from Cars, too–how to pronounce “chassis” and what it means to beat the pace car. I learned you never know what will spark a child’s imagination, and joy comes from unexpected sources.
When Ian called me “Sally,” he invited me to climb in the passenger seat and come along on an adventure. When he calls me “Mama,” I’m invited to serve and to love, to be present and committed.
Along the way, I’ve learned to buckle up. Motherhood is quite a ride.
Lindsey Cornett is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.