My Son's Changing Voice
My baby boy's voice is about to change. Actually, he's not a baby anymore. He's 14 years old, and he's at least 2 or 3 inches taller than me now. He wears size 9 shoes -- not toddler size 9, but men's -- and is starting to have a few pimples here and there. His voice has slowly been sliding down the scale for the past few months.
But nothing defines puberty like a male's changing voice that suddenly drops from soprano to baritone in a matter of hours.
He is straddling that fine line between childhood and adulthood right now, and I am standing right beside him...on the childhood side. I keep looking back at the little boy he used to be. I especially recall the newborn I held in my arms for the first time. Boy, did he ever have a piercing cry! He sounded more like a meowing cat. I remember wondering, even back then, what Joshua's talking voice was going to sound like. The voice I imagined on that day was a sweet toddler's high-pitched voice; I certainly never imagined my baby talking like a dude!
Indeed, Josh did have a sweet voice. His tenderheartedness was apparent in the way he intoned every word. And with his toddler voice, he called me Mama. That was his personal choice for the various options one has to call his or her own mother. "But MAMA," he would protest, when I would ask him to put away his toys. It is hard to harbor anger towards a little boy who calls me Mama.
I found out early on that Josh has his Private Voice and his Public Voice. His Public Voice was always half an octave lower than his Private one, which he only used at home. "Oh hey, Kai," he would say to his friend in the kindergarten playground or "I'll have the burger with fries," he would order at a restaurant, suddenly dropping the pitch to sound like he's much older, maybe a second grader. I didn't know where that voice was coming from, but I figured that it was a way for my son to separate from me, his mama, and to find his own voice...in more ways than one.
And now, he's losing his Private Voice altogether, and we are going to be left only with his Public Voice, lowered not just a few pitches but a full octave and a half. And that tells me that he is going to individuate and become independent of his parents and, in essence, become a young man. I'm not sure if I'm ready to walk to the other side of the man/child imaginary line quite yet.
That's probably why I refuse to erase Joshua's outgoing voice mail message on his cell phone. "This is Joshua. Leave me a message," he recorded in his best 5th grader voice a few cell phone upgrades ago. He used his Public Voice, but he still sounds like a cute little boy. This cannot be the same child who is about to embark on a journey to adulthood.
But whether I like it or not, he will soon fully step over the line, grow an over-sized Adam's apple and, after a period of wild fluctuations in tone and cracks at the most inopportune (and hilarious) moments, develop a completely deep tone. After all the dust settles, my Josh will have his Adult Voice, and I'll have no option but to join him on the other side of the line. I will probably get so used to this new voice eventually that I wouldn't be able to imagine what it was like when he didn't sound like that.
He'll be a grownup. I'll have to let him go. And I'll be reminded once again that I only get to mother a little boy entrusted in my care by God for a short period in my life. And I will be grateful once again for that privilege.
Still, I hope that Josh will always call me by my official name in whatever voice he may have in the future: