Generally speaking, people value silence.
A quick internet search yields hundreds, if not thousands, of quotes espousing the wisdom and introspection that can be found through silence. Hell, one of my favorite songs is “The Sound of Silence” (both the Simon & Garfunkel and Disturbed versions).
But as a parent, nothing instills fear more than silence.
Usually, my house is alive with the sounds of children at play. Stomping feet, animal sounds and either laughter or screaming (with three girls under the age of 10 if they’re not giggling about something it’s because they’re fighting over it). The cacophony seemingly never ends.
And as hard as that can make it to get things done, especially in the age of telework, in many ways, it’s comforting.
Regardless of the noise, I know (or mostly know), what they’re doing. If it’s unsafe, I can quickly put a stop to it. Most often, they’re pretending to be explorers or teachers or creating new worlds for their toys. Occasionally we get to marvel at our 6-year-old as she wanders into what we lovingly call “Makena-land”.
Silence, on the other hand, makes me nervous.
It sneaks up on you. They’ll be running around playing, singing, whatever, and usually end up falling down in a fit of giggles. The laughter will stop then, nothing.
The nothing often takes a few minutes to register. That doesn’t seem like much time, but ask any parent with permanent marker on their walls (or all over every toy in the house like it was for us) how long the kid had been “a little too quiet”.
If I set the over/under at five minutes, bet the under. Every time.
We don’t worry so much about Anna, our oldest. She’s almost eight and has reached the age where she likes to sit in her room and draw or read for hours undisturbed.
I break into a cold sweat when I realize Makena or Caitlin (our youngest) have gone into stealth mode. Like Anna, Caitlin loves to draw. And while “all the world’s a stage” for most, to her, “all the world’s a canvas.” They’ve recently discovered the joy of makeup too, so her preferred canvas of late has been her face.
When Makena’s in a room, you know it. She doesn’t hesitate to let you know she’s there, and seemingly has no volume control. Her silent moments often end with one of her sisters in tears and a bucket of Legos on the floor.
When the two of them are together, and it’s quiet, you might as well cue the horror movie music. They’re plotting our demise, maybe not physically, but they’re strategizing how to force us into a mental breakdown. I’m sure of it.
More often than not, I’m able to interrupt the planning process. I can tell when I’ve gotten there just in the nick of time too because they’ll quickly shift into an innocent posture. And when I ask what they’re doing that not so innocent, “Nothing,” I get in response is a little too rehearsed.
If I don’t get there in time, then all hell breaks loose.
Makena comes barreling into whatever room we’re occupying at the moment like Leroy Jenkins on a mission to create havoc. Caitlin just a few steps behind.
There isn’t a specific target most times, though they will, on occasion, decide they need to “get” me. Like a poltergeist, they just go and go and go until their cosmic energy surge fades.
Whatever room we happened to be in when they attacked looks like the Tazmanian Devil came spinning through. We clean up and they seem content for a few days. Like a snake with a big meal, they’re satisfied for a while before needing to go on the hunt again.
These are the things that get left out of all those “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” books or sites that talk about the joys of parenting. I crave a little quiet time but fear it when it happens.
Even while writing this, there’s been a constant chatter upstairs. Though now I must go.
Silence has settled in.