Quick show of hands -- how many of you managed to go a decade or more without ever addressing your mother-in-law directly as anything? Like, you'd wait until she was looking at you or would make enough noise walking into the house to get attention and then say "Oh, so, did you want this on the table now or after dinner?" Rob and I were married 14.5 years when his mom passed away and I think I called her by her first name about 3 times and "mom" one really awkward time. Rob is the same way with my parents. There's lots of love in all directions there, but no actual names.
That's where we are with Maryna. Once, when she was still in Ukraine, we managed to Skype. Her director was in the room and told me "Maryna Mama? Maryna big love mama." Maryna came on and said "Hi Mama. I love you." Then blushed a lot, got uncomfortable, and shortly after that we said our goodbyes. In retrospect, that was probably horribly uncomfortable for her.
Mama is a loaded name for her. I get that. I've told her she can call me mom or mama if she wants, but she can also call me Aunty or Tetya (Russian for Aunt) or Mama-J or Julie or really anything she wants as long as it's respectful and kind. But she doesn't call anyone anything. Ever.
Last week she labeled a photo of me and Rob as "mama and papa" when she posted it online. That, my friends, is the kind of teeny tiny itty bitty baby steps we celebrate.