A house with children is never quiet, I think.
Even in brief moments of stillness, of sleep, the momentary lull when busy bodies and mouths are kept quiet by the tasks of mealtimes or bedtimes, when the only sounds are the quiet rasp of lungs taking air in and then letting it out, forks scraping plates and soft swallows, even in the calm, a house where children reside holds itself in expectation.
My house has not been quiet in a very long time.
Twenty-four years, to be exact, have passed since the moment my husband and I brought a red and wrinkled baby girl home from the hospital wrapped in too many blankets and just enough care and the quiet of our house disappeared.
Here’s the thing. I don’t miss it.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. It would be nice, once in a while. To hear the soft, silent peace of a room waiting, expectant in the absence of the lives that usually fill it. And yes, there are occasions when this sort of weighted, hesitant hush happens. Especially as my children get older and more involved in their own lives, in work, in school, and in play. But it is not the default. It is not the normal state of things.
No. Silence is not common in our home. It is far more likely that when entering the house you will stumble into a chaotic sort of cacophony, the sound of voices overlapping with laughter and shouts and eager conversation, the thud of doors as people come and go, the quiet snick of the fridge opening (always opening because children, no matter what age, are ravenous, and groceries never last long enough). You might hear the sound of the television or a lively discussion about the merits of one movie over another—every person one part of an indecisive council that can never agree, but take delight in the debate. You might hear the repetitive beat of music from the radio or the piano or just voices lifted in song. The shuffle of feet moving from one end of the house to another, an ebb and flow, leading and following, each person drawn into the orbit of the others as they seek comfort in companionship and company.
It feels like a dance. Figures flowing in fluid patterns around and through one another, each member of the family adding their own unique, shuffling style. Or, maybe it feels more like a symphony, each note a needed element of a larger whole, each conversation an instrument, another layer of depth and richness, not only melody, not only harmony, but a complex and overlapping tapestry of sound. Or maybe it is more like a choir, the deep rumble of a bass, the lilting ring of a soprano, low and high in counterpoint, the alto and tenor tucked tight in between. Family, much like dance, like music, like song, is made of patterns. Waking and sleeping, eating and working, the ebb and flow of life in all its brilliant ordinariness. An endless round of humble moments, each day much the same as the day before and still beautifully unique.
There is a curious sense of wonder in this repetition. In all the ways we need one another. In the partnering that happens within families, the support and succor and sustenance that lifts and encourages. In how sound is a sensory sign of the way we ground our experiences in shared language, shared moments, and shared adventures. A reaching for calm through the clamor and connection.
I used to think I craved the quiet.
The truth of the matter is, nothing is ever quiet, really. On an early morning walk up the canyon near my home, alone in the woods, I hear the rustle of birds and small animals in the brush. The rush of water in the river that runs full and ferocious in the spring and dies back to a meandering ripple in late summer and early fall. The scrape of worn shoes on dusty concrete, on cracked blacktop, on scattered gravel, and packed dirt. Each footfall has its own unique resonance.
I hear the rustle of the wind in the trees overhead, and I mark how the sound changes through the seasons, as the once lithe and limber green leaves crack brittle and dry until they fall and the soft sound becomes the harsh scrape of empty branches; a whistle, a clatter, a screech.
There is nothing more unnatural than silence.
On one July evening, closer to midnight than dusk, after my husband and I had cleaned up the house, opened the windows to catch the night breeze, set the alarms, and retired to our bed, our house was abruptly filled with noise, sudden sound splitting the dark as our two daughters returned from work, as our youngest son got home from a friend’s, as they caught up with low voices and hushed conversations, murmurs kept soft and reserved, fitting for the late hour, whispers that rang through the night like an unexpected lullaby.
This was not a unique experience. I’ve found my children are loudest in the dark.
In the times that they have not met this way, when there is only silence in the dark hall outside their bedrooms instead of the bumbling bustle of their comings and goings, the catching up and the connecting and the cackling with glee, an empty space where I expect to see them gathered as they lean their heads close together in an attempt at quiet, dark hair and blond, curly and straight mingling as they whisper and gossip and plan and tease, those times when I hear only absence in the night, I have felt, not peace, but an aching sense of loss.
I no longer seek silence.
No. Silence seems an awful lot like solitude. A sense of isolation that belies the ways we become, as a family, small and individual notes in a larger melody. To me, it is noise that speaks love, that whispers belonging, that sings of memories and stories and shared narratives.
It is the song that echoes through empty rooms long after the people you love are gone.