Howl, Scream, Speak: The Voice of a Mama
by Melissa Uchiyama
Those dreams used to wake me–the ones where No Voice would come out in the midst of danger. An attacker would grab me and nothing could come from my throat. Not a squelch or scream. Just paralyzed air.
Perhaps more haunting than the feeling of powerlessness, the “No Voice” feeling, a vacuum, was the question of “if in a real situation, away from the dream world, would I be just as voiceless? Is this how it would play out?”
I have found my voice over the years and it has come as a mama bear. There aren’t any more dreams in which I’m silenced. In the instances that I felt an injustice affecting my kids, I learned to speak. I became a wolf, if even over the right to sit on the train’s designated seats. My fatigue and the danger of standing would affect my baby growing inside. I’ve asked people to step aside so I could sit and nurse my child. My bubbling anger at looking at someone hurting my child on a the mulchy playground is funneled into voice, my voice.
Days of shy, “suck it up and carry on” thoughts are pretty much gone. Instead, I learned to raise a mother wolf from my tongue. I fight for my clan. (I think hunting for bugs helps develop this. We all need to know we can kick ass, in whatever form).
I don’t stay hungry, all starved for sugar in my blood. I speak up for a snack, for fortified bread, not meekly waiting for someone else to suggest it. We go to sleep and it is me who goes around locking and double locking doors. And now, 36 weeks pregnant with my third baby cub, I know my voice works. It has range and depth. It is piercing and carries weight to make the waves to speed-up change– because it is more than about me.
Tonight, after our meal and just before our shower, my son shrieks. He is on the fifth stair and suddenly flies down, running at me with terror. He is a trail of high-pitched screams and as I grab him, I look up the stairs. Intruder? Some man in the hallway, just outside of their rooms? And then I see the twitching of amber, the disgusting orb of a cockroach body. And freaking huge wings. I scream. My boy and his sister scream. “Stay here, in the kitchen!” I warn. “Stay down! Stay down!” I am army sergeant, commander of a mission. Their little heads keep bobbing up, over the sink, frightened, disgusted, and a bit excited.
“It’s too gross!” and yet I steel myself for battle, rifling through the drawer under the kitchen sink. Sponges, tidying spray, paper towels. Why did I remove the roach spray? I choose a heavy roll of aluminum foil, the cheaper, off-brand variety. This will be my ammo.
I think the voice we use to kill the bugs, the gross things that dare come out of the dark and threaten our peace, our cleanliness, is who we are, the determiner of what we can truly summon and muster up. It is the one we whip out to fight right in our homes, where light meets dark. Where we have home team advantage and enough gall to do the job, when we are our most awake, senses strong. My roll of foil might as well be a lance or double-edged sword, or even some black glock. I temper my words, but it is the hunting and vowing of “die, fucker!” that weaves its tone and promise into any made-for-kids-words. We all know this is the voice to use now. This is the time we all curl our mouths and brows into snarls. My little wolves.
The creature speedily scuttles its way down the steps and onto the floor, past us screamers and under the vacuum where it rests as if for Gatorade. My kids, while yelling, huddle in tights hugs and big sister cradles her brother’s head, chanting, “I’ll protect you.”
This crap when I am in the final weeks of nesting. This is the place to raise kids, to raise hopes and strength! Instead, we are dealing with this crap beetle. I am pregnant, even more nauseous now, and fighting for our lives. “You know I love God’s creatures, all nature, but not this guy. I don’t think roaches and palmetto bugs are good or healthy for our home or for us,” I explain, resting my battle cry for the voice that is but a touch more Rachel Carlson. Hey, it’s not my fault he wheedled his way into our habitat and onto our stairs.
Kids get it, too. We rally. They cheer me on, offer other fairly innocuous spray bottles as weapons, and stick out their tongues. They spit, too. Pretend to punch it from four feet away.
After two missed tries, I finally fling the tube of wrap at the beast and boom. The assailant is stopped, but still, his long antennae and two-inch long leg kicks out, kicking, kicking. What an asshole. What nerve, sneaking into our home and delaying our shower time. I would have left him for my husband to clean up, but for my daughter’s final cheering.
“You are a strong and brave woman. You don’t need to leave it for Daddy. Just finish the job, Mom!” All this from my five-year-old. Of course, now I have to stay, make sure he is dead dead and gather up the body, too. It is the kitchen alcohol spray I employ to finally stop his freaking kicky-leg. Finally, with their encouragement, I scoop it up with paper towels and drown him in the bottom of a plastic bag, then out of the house, flung to the curb. I am the woman of this house. I get the job done, voice intact.
Hours later, I spot another guy, one of his buddies, and have to scream and scream for my husband to pause Game of Thrones and kill this other fucker. (It’s this early summer, torrential rain inviting them in. Our house is not normally reeking of this much seedy nature).
I have to make my husband get up quick, quick, before he hides and is gone forever in the hidden corners and recesses in our walls. “Promise me! Make a vow that you will get them all! Please!” I want to hear his aim, that he will do what it takes to protect us from skittering scum and these nasty blokes that can survive even nuclear fallout. I want to hear what he will do. I need his voice, rising to declare all kinds of vows as if from the very show he’s watching.
He should even use an accent, really get me believing, because I am supposed to be nesting! I need a clean space and instead, I am crushing and flinging and wailing, “Get out!” and “Die, already, jerk!” and of course, way worse. I practice and remember my voice in such instances, loud and powerful, good for advocating, weeding crap out, and cheering for my crew.
My kids gird me on with their voices, too, and together, we see strength. Our bodies, our whole beings are called to attention. They see me as a fighter, to whatever and whoever encroaches on our space, if even a silly beetle. They hear my voice and know I can fight for them, too, wrestle with bigger lions–even with the occasional curse. That has to be fine, I think. Let them see strength. Let them hear my voice as I howl and protect
Melissa Uchiyama is a teacher, mama, and writer, living in the megacity of Tokyo. She has led young writers in sensory-based food and travel writing workshops and teaches in a young women’s Japanese middle and high school. Currently, she awaits the birth of her third child and wonders how much of her writing and thinking brain will be rendered as mush, imminently.
Her essays can be found on sites such as Brain, Child, in Mamalode, Literary Mama, Cargo Literary Journal, and Kveller. Melissa also has one essay published in the poignant anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness. Connect with Melissa on her blog, Melibelle in Tokyo. You can also find her on Instagram and on Facebook.
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