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Small Talk: Little ones require a big voice

Jean Gillette hopes you will enjoy one of her earlier columns, in a sympathetic salute to all young moms today.

have suddenly pinpointed my strongest weapon and tool possessed as a mother of young children.

It is not a certain look. It is not hugs and kisses, the world-famous “timeout” or a spanking. It is my voice. Without a good, strong voice that carries well, I don’t know how you manage motherhood. I crashed into this revelation this week when a virus turned my throat into a sand pit. It is a child’s dream and a mother’s nightmare.

Suddenly, I could not respond to the 1,001 questions and requests that my youngsters fire over their shoulder in a constant stream from the minute their eyes open until they drop off to sleep. I truly was amazed at how often my kids needed a verbal response. This steady stream of chatter had become second nature to me until I found I could not be heard. With no voice, you cannot get your children to look at you, or even slow down long enough to be caught.

For better or worse, my voice has always been a major part of my persona. I achieve a volume, especially with my children, that is the bane of my neighbors and the envy of every fishwife and drill sergeant. I use it often and with excellent success in the discipline of my children. It also allows me to respond to their every beck and call from upstairs or down.

They don’t exactly stop in their tracks when I bellow, but it gets their attention more quickly than anything else I have tried. I have never felt so powerless as when I let fly a shriek at my son, who was blithely ignoring me about something, and managed nothing more than a fine imitation of a strangling bullfrog.

My sprinting speed has increased since physical contact has become critical for getting any message across. My hands are blistered from clapping, and I have remastered the fine art of the two-finger whistle I learned as a kid.

Finally, I sat both children down, and reminded them that mom’s throat was sore and that I had no voice. They must not stand upstairs and holler at me, expecting the usual audible response. They must watch me more closely when we are out to know if I need their attention. It feels like pearls before piglets, but I have to keep trying or I will never recover. The really strange moments came during the weekend away with a close friend and her children. Fortunately, she too is a mom who knows how to express herself, so she got to express herself for both of us.

Then I kept turning and whispering. “Tell my son to stop splashing his sister, please. Ask my daughter to stop running near the pool, please,” and so on. It was like a bad ventriloquism act.

They would hear her, turn, look at me, see my scowl or furious hand motions, and finally, obey. Instead, I have let some transgressions, usually noted, just go by. The kids love it, but I’m not sure they realize it is temporary. They may be in for a cold shock when I heal. For now, I’m gargling frequently, picking my fights carefully and wishing I had made my children fluent in sign language.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who rarely needs a megaphone. Contact her at [email protected]