I’ve been thinking about voice lately. The different voices that shape us and call us to action or cause us to shrink from ourselves. I’ve been looking for my authentic voice. The last year has been an almost obsessive quest to find it.
I began to wonder if I had lost it in motherhood.
I often hear myself and don’t recognize the person speaking. As the timber rises with irritation after hours of incessant sibling fighting and whining I hear that voice and don’t like. I feel guilty for speaking through gritted teeth and angry sighs. I wonder where this voice laced with anger and resignation came from. I can blame quarantine and COVID, but it was there before the world spun out.
It’s not just the voice of the irritated mother that doesn’t sit well with me. It’s the one heavy with shame and apologies that my parenting has somehow fallen short. Apologies for a shy child, a child who refuses to wear shoes or eat what’s on the menu or say ma'am and sir, or brush their hair, or wear matching clothes or who speaks with sass beyond their years.
It’s a false voice. The one that feigns interest in the mundane drama of PTA circles and dress code violations.
It’s the absent voice. The one where I’m not listening and nodding and placating while my child tells me for the 400th time about a video game that I don’t even know how to turn on much less play.
It’s the apologetic voice for not listening and being called on the carpet by my nine-year-old who set up a quiz ( which I failed spectacularly) to see if I’m listening to her grand plans for her video game island.
We both know I’m not listening.
It’s the tired voice. The one with the never-ending to-do list. It’s the voice that only speaks of work with my husband and rarely speaks, of dreams and afternoon cuddles.
It’s the soothing voice that offers comfort and snuggles to children with trembling chins.
It’s the voice of love that causes my eyes to light up at the very sight of the ones I love.
It’s a silent voice. The one in my head. Hammering out its egocentric refrain. Who are you? What do you have to say? Why do you matter?
Then I hear the indignant voice of my daughter telling my mother that she can’t believe people call push-ups on your knees “girl push-ups.” My mother surprised asks what she calls push up on your knees. She tells her we call them “starter push-ups and “boy “ push-ups are called “ full push-ups.”
She then follows up her explanation of the correct name for push-ups with a long litany on the attributes of females in general but particularly their strength.
And then I hear it.
The voice I thought I had lost. It’s strong, clear, and determined and coming out of a tiny fireball who is doing “full push-ups” while espousing the power of the female form.
It dawns on me that motherhood gave me my voice.
It didn’t take it from me.
I have never had the pluck or the guts to say what I think. Raised in the south, in a southern baptist home my voice was stifled by convention, by religion, by tradition.
I bucked the system and rebelled, but that voice wasn’t mine either. It was the voice of someone, lost, wandering, searching. Hemming and hawing, indecisive and at times unkind.
I married a man partly because of his voice. His sexy, southern African dialect still makes my heart flutter. His belief and confidence in me started to nourish my voice.
Cancer gave me a voice that roared. I would not sit silently and watch my mother fade away. So I began to roar. The roar scared me it was so unladylike, so undignified, so unlike what I thought I should be.
My children permitted me to roar, to speak, to stand up. To read Gloria Steinheim, Mark Neepo, the Dhali Llama, and break with convention.
The voice of motherhood is all those voices. Tired, cranky, soothing, loving, laughing but more than that it’s the voice of power and simultaneously surrender. Speaking to the authentic power that lives in our children and surrendering to how they will express their strength.
At the moment we are all on our knees grappling with how to get to the full position.
Finding the strength to level up requires an authentic voice-powered with the will to throw off convention, tradition, the norm. It also requires acceptance that forward progression takes time, courage, and patience.
The quest to find my voice was a quest to accept myself.
What I thought I lost was there the whole time.
It was buried, dormant ready for excavation.
My hesitance to excavate my authentic self was born of fear of disappointing the voices I have heard my entire life.
The voice of convention, tradition, religion is a vice grip on the soul.
The voice of motherhood is one of expansion, love, anger, humility, strength, and surrender.
It is the voice of humanity in all its glory and its failure.
It is the voice of the creator saying you are strong, powerful, amazing and what makes you beautiful is your light and your dark.
It is the voice of my friend Suzie saying, “Get on with your bad self.”
It is the courage to “Get on with your bad self" and work for the full pushup and the fuller life.