September 30, 2020
Voices from the Past
By Dr Kathy Weston
If you are a Facebook fan, you may have noticed, in recent weeks, that parenting forums (more specifically the mothering groups!) have been dominated by the voices of the bereft. Parental grief has coincided with the start of the academic year in universities.
They are the mothers of those who have grown up and moved out, leaving their biggest fans grief stricken, sobbing, unable to sleep and seeking an online shoulder to cry on. They pine for aspects of living with a teen that were previously the source of enormous irritation; the untidy room, sock-laden floors and piles of laundry to wash.
I have to confess that reading these accounts left me a teeny bit dismissive, and I privately wondered how so much grief could be attached to what was clearly a long-standing dream of attending university. I tried to reflect on why I felt so little empathy.
I realised that, firstly, I have yet to go through this loss (and you can never imagine what it feels like until you experience it), but also, it’s because I know that a child leaving for university doesn’t equate to not being needed anymore. Quite the opposite!
Transition to university is yet another change that needs careful management. It is replete with opportunities and challenges, risks and rewards. We are mistaken if we think that we are in any sense ‘letting go’ as soon as our children hit what is legally considered adulthood.
In the same week that I dismissed others’ maternal grief, during an attic tidy, I came across a video recording that propelled me into an acute state of loss. An interaction with my son, which feels like yesterday, suddenly appeared on the screen as a dated, otherworldly snippet.
The thing that particularly took me aback was my son’s voice; lispy, stammering and soft. He was reading a soft book, enquiring about the characters, pointing to his favourites and going back over the pages that he really liked.
In the clip, he refers to the kitchen as the ‘chicken’, but that doesn’t attract any criticism or comment from me. I was clearly relishing every malapropism, knowing that such sweetness would dissipate over time. Nothing can prepare you though, for the extraordinary journey of a boy’s voice from toddler to early manhood.
These days, listening to my 14 year old across the dinner table (or more accurately asking him to sshhhh), his voice has acquired an increasingly foreign quality that oscillates between a husky baritone and that of an inebriated man, thrown out of the pub at last orders.
Most of the time, dinner time discussions mean that his voice moves to a higher pitch as a means of amplifying his adolescent incredulity. His new voice is so distant from the one that I used to interact with so softly, in that rhythmic and reciprocal dance between parent and child.
Truth be told, the audio that I have hoarded of my boys’ evolving voices over the years is the most precious thing I own.
My own mother in law, now deceased, had the same idea in the early 80s; tape-recording dinner time discussions with her toddlers, chats about this and that between grandma and the kids, plus the occasional tune on the piano when the family sang along.
These audio testimonies have been captured for all time, and represent digital time capsules of family life for my own children and future generations to hear. Capturing someone’s voice these days is so easy, yet often not top of a parent’s list. Documenting our offspring’s childhood through photography and videography is important, but there’s something special about audio without images too.
It allows us to conjure the feelings associated with these moments, to recall detail about the room and its furnishings and to see, in our mind’s eye, the faces of those that we love. I am a big fan of children interviewing grandparents, as you will know if you have ever downloaded this resource, which provides a template for the conversation.
Winter is nearly upon us, so it’s a good time to stock up on and organise our memories; an endeavour that future generations will thank you for.
Are you a Tooled Up member?
If you are a registered member of the Tooled Up community, click here to explore our library of resources.