Husband: Darling, where are the scissors? Me: They’re in the stationery box. Husband: Where is that again? Me: (Sigh) It’s in the cupboard in the study, third shelf on the right hand side.
Except, that’s not all I wanted to say, so my tone did the rest of the talking. On behalf of my words, my tone said:
- it’s where it was the last time you asked;
- it’s where you left it the last time you used it;
- it’s in the same place it has been in every house we’ve ever lived in together over the last 11 years. Oh my God, have I really been answering that question for 11 years? Dear God, how many more times am I going to have to answer that question?
- if you ask me that question one more time I’m going to take the scissors (they’re in the stationery box, study room cupboard, third shelf, right hand side) and stab you with them. Somewhere muscular or fatty, you understand. Nowhere near a major artery or vital organ because I love you darling.
It’s a simple question really that somehow ends up epitomising (in my mind) (what I perceive to be) the problem (you can take your pick of any of the following imagined or real problems: you don’t listen to me, you don’t take responsibility around the house, you think it’s perfectly acceptable for me to waste my time and headspace on the [insert random domestic item such as scissors] but not your own….).
I always help him find the scissors but by the time I do, poor Husband wishes he’d taken those scissors and stabbed himself instead.
According to Friend S, my only athletic friend (I had to get rid of the others, they were bad for my self-esteem), repetitive exercise will build tone. From my experience, repetitive:
- ignored requests for compliance (please get in the car);
- questions starting with “Where is the…” or sometimes, even questions starting with “Mummy…”;
- disruptions to sleep;
- surround-sound whingeing; and
- the stresses of daily life
are destroying my tone of voice.
There are times (not often, but often enough) when innocuous words come out of my mouth:
- get in the car
- finish your breakfast
- finish your homework
- if the big hand is on the 9 and the little hand is near the 6, what time is it?
- No (emphasising the ooo in No), if the big hand is on the 9 (stressing the 9 and now pointing to it) and the little hand is near the 6 (stressing the 6, pointing to it, and now stressing Prima), what time is it?
- it’s by the door
- it’s in your briefcase
and I have weaponised them with a tone of voice that says (and hurts) much more.
Recently, my mother and I had the following conversation:
Mother: Who put the kettle on? Who put it on? (Tone: angry) Me: Umm
It was actually my father who turned the kettle on, but when confronted with maternal disapproval, my first impulse is still to panic, lie and then blame my little brother. Sadly, Brother was saving lives somewhere in the western suburbs so he was not a plausible perpetrator. Apparently the lid of the kettle had not been shut properly causing it to boil continuously, wasting water and energy. This was explained to me with the angry tone of an eco-terrorist or some one who had had to close the kettle lid properly one too many times. I really felt for my mother, I understood her but I didn’t want my tea anymore. And I don’t want to be that person anymore.
The test of tone for me is whether I would talk to Husband and the children like that in front of an acquaintance – if it’s too vicious for company then why do I think it’s ok for me to speak like that when we are alone? Seriously, when did I develop a polite poker voice for outside use and a tone for inside use?
I love words. I love the way they arrange themselves on a page and the way they emerge from my children and Husband’s lips. At bedtime, when the children say “Cuddles Mummy?” and “One more?” or Husband says “Cunji, are you awake?” there is no tone in their voice, it’s a tune. A sweet tune that won’t play forever but may last longer if I can take a deep breath and temper my tone.