A stubborn cold has robbed me of my voice. Since Christmas Eve, I’ve scarcely been able to talk at all and when I do, it comes out as a hoarse, strained whisper. This is a first for me and has presented its share of challenges since I’ve always been someone who liberally used her vocal chords. I have a voice that carries, which served me well both on the stage when I used to do theatre as well as in the home when I need to get my children’s attention. (Or so I always thought.)
It’s been strange being voiceless when I’m used to singing and speaking and laughing loudly all of the time. At Christmas Eve Mass I was so sad that I couldn’t sing along to the beautiful music. I tried once and what came out was not mellifluous in any sense of the sound. My soprano singing voice had been reduced to a croak. I quickly shut up and spent the rest of Mass soundlessly mouthing the words. It was indeed a Silent Night for me.
On Sunday we were getting ready to leave my aunt and uncle’s place to return home. When I was packing up the van and the kids (and the dog) solo because Dave was working, I kept calling for Madeline to please get in the van. My calling was only a hoarse whisper. She really couldn’t hear me, but it didn’t feel much differently than when I do call out to her in my loud voice and she’s in stalling mode, not wanting to leave somewhere. She is very good at selective listening.
The more I called for her, the more frustrated I became. But I couldn’t yell. It physically was not possible for me to holler at her to get her little bum over here and stop playing in the snow (yes, snow; we had our first white Christmas here in Georgia). If I’d had my voice, I know my tone would have become sharper. My command likely would have escalated into a screeching demand. I was tired. I was sick. I was ready to get on the road, and I really wanted my eldest daughter to listen to me. But since I could not release my frustrations out with a booming voice, I took a deep breath and marched over to my dawdling, little girl and took her hand. “It’s time to go,” I said softly because that’s the only way I could say it.
“Oh,” she said, her eyes bright and cheeks flushed with cold and pleasure. “Sorry. I didn’t hear you.”
After she climbed into the van and we were headed for home, I thought about how she didn’t hear my desperate whispers, but I also considered that when I raise my voice she may not hear or hear it well either. I wondered if my children are not always intentionally trying to ignore me or rob me of my joy. Similarly, I doubt if I’m ever intentionally trying to look like this and turn into a screaming lunatic. I’ve found that I often resort to hollering when my kids don’t listen to simple requests the first (or more like fifteenth time). I’ll ask politely a few times and then more firmly and then my inner screeching gorilla comes out. Yet, they still don’t seem to hear me. Yelling never works or solves anything and for a long time I didn’t ever raise my voice, but with three kiddos under my roof I fear I sometimes morph into a lazy parent who too quickly resorts to shouting instead of more effective parenting strategies.
Likewise, I too easily let defiant kids rob me of my joy, I realized as I navigated down the empty Georgia roads, with three very tired little girls dozing in the back. And I too quickly assume their inattentive ways are a personal attack against me when maybe they really are just so absorbed in the beauty of a pile of snow crystals pink with the setting sun that they are in their own little world and don’t hear my whispers or my shouting. Besides, who wants to listen to the unpleasant raised voice of joy-leeching mom? I tune out myself when I raise my voice. I don’t like to listen to it, although it makes excellent fodder for Confession. Why should my children listen to it? How much easier it would be if, instead of escalating into shouting to get my children to come or to listen, I simply went to them, took their hand, and guided them to where I needed them or to what I needed them to do? Just like I had to do on that snowy, silent evening? Just like I used to do when Madeline was my one and only and parenting was more simple and quiet, and I didn’t feel pulled in so many directions?
I’ve missed my voice. I’ve missed the gift of song, singing O Divine Night at Mass, crooning a soft lullaby to Mary Elizabeth while she nurses, reading stories to my daughters, and repeating the sounding joy of this miraculous season, but I’ve missed the gentle mom I used to be, I promised to always be even more. What I haven’t missed in my voiceless state is the shouting. My binding hushed tone has afforded me an unforeseen yet worthwhile lesson in how gentle actions and gentle words often speak louder than the loudest of voices. And so when my big mouth is restored to its full function, I plan to use it a little less and to use my love and the joy a tiny baby brought to the entire world on the first Christmas a little bit more.