By: Lara Winburn
At the risk of this being used against me in the family court of my living room, I have a confession: Sometimes I am a little tone deaf. Not the kind of tone deaf where I can’t do an awesome rendition of Taylor Swift, but a different kind of tone. My husband has so generously pointed out to me on a few occasions (a few being 7,456,987 times) that most of the time it is not what you say, but the tone of voice you use when you say it. I am guilty of many tones at our house, some helpful and some more hurtful.
With the kids, I have my second grade teacher tone, which can be used for good and not evil. My family knows when we are getting down to business or when I have given my last warning. There are other pleasant tones- playful, silly and even the occasional profound tone. My struggle is not to be tone deaf to a particular tone.
There are two not-so-pleasant tones I am guilty of using. I really do struggle to improve their pitch. These tones do not have names, but they definitely have characteristics.
One is a more combative, normally a rhetorical question tone…you know the one. “Are you going to leave those shoes there?” Translation: MOVE THOSE BOATS, I HAVE TRIPPED ON THEM A MILLION TIMES AND I ALREADY STRUGGLE WITH BEING MISS GRACE. Or another example is, “What do you think we should have for dinner?” Translation: haven’t we talked about how making these decisions is exhausting? (See Please Pass the Magic Eight Ball.) I know this tone is hard on the ears and the heart so I try (really, I do!) to use it as little as possible.
Then there is my husband’s least favorite tone of all. He describes it like this: “You make a statement or ask a question in a way that you can always add “you dummy” to the end of it. For example, “Are you going to dress the baby in that?” becomes, “Are you doing to dress the baby in that, you dummy?” Or “Tomorrow is dance class.” With a certain tone, this simple statement can sound a lot like, “Tomorrow is dance class, you dummy.”
I know, throw the book at me. This is wrong. The tone you use is just as important, if not more important, as the words you say. (I just said that with my desperate, you-are-right, apologetic tone)
As the many, many words I say each day fall out of my mouth, I pledge to really hear them – not the letters, but the tone. I am the victim as well as a perpetrator…just ask my three-year-old who has now mastered the art of the word “fine,” with the tone of a 16-year-old.