May 8 2010

My Mother’s Voice

My mother’s voice, all those years, was something to roll my eyes at.

It was a scolding plea to pick up my room, take my papers off the table, move my shoes from the hallway. It was the never-ending question: “How was school today?” Or an occasionally mystified, “what do you mean I didn’t buy the right kind?” The voice of a woman entirely incapable of differentiating Lee from Levis from Wrangler; the voice of a woman who never once in her life wore a pair of jeans.

My mother’s voice, those years, strong and clear in conference rooms and at speaker podiums – an articulate, educated, diplomatic voice. A voice that incited admiration and rarely faltered. A voice I didn’t disbelieve, but yet I couldn’t fully appreciate it. How could I? All listening is selective, especially when there are things we don’t want to hear.

My mother’s voice is now a voice inside my head: a memory, a childhood song, a compliment, a reprimand. It’s a beckoning call from the back porch. It’s a gentle whisper from the other room.

My mother’s voice. I hear it when I speak to my children. Please pick up your toys before the cleaner comes. Please clear your plates when you leave the table. You can’t go out without socks. Now my own voice, that of a mother’s, echoing the voice that once annoyed me as much as it soothed me.

Sometimes I hear my own voice, responding to a sweet prideful request to “watch me!” or “look at this!’ with a half-listening, half-present, “Yes, that’s great.” Once Short-pants said to me, “Mama, do you know what I mean? Are you listening?” Or Buddy-roo, who said to me yesterday, “I’d like you to close your computer, maman.” I am often caught in the act of being distracted and pretending to care: A wake-up call that my voice isn’t always the mothering voice I want to speak with.

Soon enough they will roll their eyes at me.

Now I know what it was that I heard in my mother’s voice: the voice of a woman trying to juggle a full life, a voice answering the call of work, of her colleagues, of her community and of her husband and her children, a voice calling out to herself amidst a grand chorus of voices, a cacophony of demanding, needing, wanting voices. A voice occasionally gasping for air. A voice I recognize differently now, now that it is also my own.