a dangerous quiet
I knew I was done with the City when one day in Herald Square, I felt mentally unable to escape the cacophany around me. I thought I was going mad. I moved out of NYC two months later, dragging Tom with me. I have a hard time being still, but I need quiet. It calms my mind and restores me. My main complaint about TV is that I can’t escape the sound of the white noise that accompanies it, no matter where I go in the house. The jarring crunch of the recycling truck makes me wince; the cloudy crackle of AM radio is anathema.
But now that I have two boys, silence has lost its appeal. Instead, it’s become something to be feared. I can block out my boys’ nonstop chatter and the booms and crashes that accompany their playing. It’s when things go quiet that I panic. A few days ago I was doing a puzzle with Finn and could hear Tate talking to himself in the other room. After about ten minutes, my head shot up as I realized I could no longer hear Tate. I lunged for the playroom, but it was too late. There he stood, bracing his forearms against the microwave in his play kitchen, deeply engrossed in the act of dumping a load into his shorts. When he spotted me, he paused in his bearing down to say, “I need to go poop, Mommy.” Nine times out of ten I keep my cool, but that tenth time I can’t help biting off a sarcastic reply. “No Tate, you needed to go poop ten minutes ago. Right now, you are crapping your pants.”
Quiet doesn’t always mean that Tate is emptying his bowels. Sometimes it just means he’s biting the tops off of all his crayons or eating them whole like french fries. Or emptying 5 gallons of drinking water out of the water machine, in a slow trickle, onto the kitchen floor. Or drawing, which in its current iteration involves repeatedly stabbing a piece of paper with a permanent marker, on top of the living room rug. Silence can also mean that Tate is focused on balancing on top of a tall stool, or eating my contact lenses and washing them down with the saline in which they are stored. The choices are endless, and none of them involve playing with parent-approved toys in the prescribed manner.
But that’s one-kid silence. Let me submit that there are few things scarier than two-kid silence. Two weeks ago I heard Tom getting animated upstairs, and went to investigate. There he stood in his office, looking down at my two boys, who were standing side by side in solidarity and looking up at Tom with their best approximation of a guilt-free expression.
Tom (looking around the room, panicked): “No, seriously, what were you guys doing in here?”
Finn: “Nothing, Daddy.”
Tom: “No, I know you were doing something because I heard you, but then you stopped when I came in. So what were you doing?? Tate, were you playing with Daddy’s papers? Were you??”
Tate: (shakes head.)
Tom: “Finn, were you playing with the paper shredder? Because you know you’re not supposed to go near the paper shredder.”
Finn: “I KNOW, Daddy.”
Tom (forcibly calming himself and adopting a cajoling tone): “Hey. I won’t be mad, I promise. I just want to know what you guys were doing. Tell me what you guys were doing.”
Finn (who by this point knows he’s gonna walk): “We weren’t doing anything, Daddy.” (Scowls, grabs Tate’s hand, and leaves in a huff.)
I’m pretty sure they high-fived each other back in Finn’s room while naming us suckers. And we still don’t know what they were up to, but I suspect we’ll find out the next time we go to print something. Lots of buttons on that there printer.
Yesterday morning I stepped out of the shower and heard it again, that eerie silence that portends no good. I hurriedly threw on a towel and ran downstairs, half expecting to find them rappelling down the side of the house from a window, using their blankets. Instead, I came upon this:
After I recovered from my near-coronary, I sat there in my towel, listening to them in the early morning hush, as they told me about the farm they were building. Watching them, I felt overwhelming love for my two little men–the kind of love that clogs your throat and makes your eyes well with tears. And then, I felt a renewed appreciation for every such moment with my boys, quiet or no.