#65, Don't use that voice with me

One of the things that drove me craziest as a kid was my parents using any even slightly unnatural tone of voice — speaking in any way other than how they normally sounded. My mother’s falsely cheerful phone voice could throw my brother and me into a frenzy (“Why are you talking like that?”) When I was five-ish my father told me at bedtime that he loved me and I asked him, “Why did you say that in such a calm, prayerful way?” Most of all I hated the edge to my mother’s voice when she was tired or stressed out — was driven crazy by any suggestion, I guess, that being with me was not a constant delight.

I have my own range of mom voices now, and it’s only a matter of time before my kids start calling me out on them. There’s the voice I use with my kids when I’m around other parents, which is 10 percent louder, 25 percent cheerier and quite a bit more “educational” than my normal voice; it’s basically me trying to sound like the kids’ teachers, trying to give the impression to the world around us that I am just this great all the time. We were out to dinner recently, at the trendy place at 5:30 PM because kids eat free there from 5:30 to 6:30 (it goes without saying that it’s, like, parent-trendy), and Hugh made his way over to the big front window under the bar where, if you’re less than four feet tall, you can stand and watch the cars and people go by.

Another toddler was there with her mom; she and Hugh started playing, and then Hugh began doing the toddler thing of standing awkwardly close to her, like he was going to body-check her.

“Hugh! Give her body space!” I said in my singsong-y, teacher-around-other-parents voice, a voice that I hoped conveyed the following: 1) Lol toddlers! Isn’t it great our dinners are getting cold while we’re standing here by a window staring at nothing, man I am glad I have this drink aren’t you, we’re pretty cool moms don’t you think? 2) Please know that I’m not raising a future entitled white borderline-rapist, I am teaching him about body space from the start, he will grow up understanding consent and he will respect women.

And then the other mom laughed and said “body space!” and I realized she was British and maybe they don’t have #metoo there or maybe they do but regardless, all of the impressions I had been trying to make on her with my voice hadn’t registered with her at all.

When it’s just me and the kids, I use other voices. I have my “I’m really mad” voice and my “I’m really tired please give me a break can’t you see how much I sacrifice for you” voice. Both of these are 100 percent equally ineffective on the children, improving their behavior not a whit. I don’t think that the way I say anything has ever affected them at all. Worse, I guess, would be if they do notice but are purposely ignoring that any tone shift has taken place, because they have somehow figured out that that would really be the best way to piss me off. (They would be correct. But they can’t have figured this out yet, can they?)

I know that I’m having a good time with them if I just use my regular voice for a long period. Alice and I are starting to have real conversations, where I’ll forget for an entire minute that I’m talking with a four-year-old. Walking home from school yesterday and we passed this sort of prototypical fancy Cambridge house. It has a large garden in the front, and a gate made of chicken wire, and then there’s a large, Microsoft Word–made, laminated sign hanging on the gate that reads, “Dear Turkeys, Please Do Not Dig Up These Flowers. They Are Here For Our Neighbors To Enjoy.”

The sign is a bit of a mystery. (I don’t mean that the turkey reference is a mystery. Oh, no. Big flocks of big wild turkeys roam Cambridge. They really are big, like taller than Hugh; they give no fucks about cars or toddlers or adults; the groups often consist of one male turkey, with his tail puffed out impressively all around him — it is actually pretty impressive, although I personally don’t find it sexually attractive — really strutting, and up to 11 female turkeys. If you’re driving, and they’re in the road, they don’t move a fraction of an inch more quickly because your car is there. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve learned to identify a Prius as a car that will do them no harm.) It is the sign itself that’s the mystery. Why is it there? Who’s it for? My working theory is that the house’s owners were embarrassed about putting chicken wire around their garden, because they knew it was a little tacky, and they also didn’t want to seem unwelcoming, because what if people thought it was Syrian refugees they were trying to keep out, and so they put up the sign for other people’s sake.

Alice asked me to read it to her yesterday, which I did.

She thought for a minute. Then she asked, “But how will the turkeys read it?”

“Well, they won’t,” I said. “It’s a little weird, but my theory is that it’s there for people to read so they know why the fence is up.”

Another pause and then “Mom, you are an expert thinker.”

It was the best conversation I’ve had in weeks. My voice was totally normal the entire time.