I sometimes wonder how I survived childhood. Those who know a bit of my family history probably think they know where this wonderment comes from. I'm not referencing my father here, however.
I'm actually thinking about my mother. How did my mother manage to raise us to adulthood and not end it all by killing us in the process? I mean, I actually marvel at this fact.
My mother is not a violent woman. It seems odd that I might, retrospectively, expect her to have killed us in our youth. In particular, I'm amazed that my mother didn't kill me. Forget the other three--the ones who weren't home, too busy running with their friends, experimenting with drugs, making babies in their later teen years. I was the one at home. I was the one present. How is it that my mother stayed sane enough to spare my life?
Sure, she's a peaceable, loving, lovely woman who would never hurt a fly. I can't remember my mother so much as spanking me as a child except once, for a fairly grievous offense at that. She never lobbed death threats or even threats of violence in any way. She was a thoroughly fantastic mother who did the best she could with what she had.
And all she really ever asked us in return was a little peace and quiet.
Which doesn't seem like much to ask.
As I grow older, I find myself valuing silence more and more. I don't own a radio. I do not listen to music unless I'm in the car with 1) my father, 2) other people who insist on turning it on, or 3) a trip alone, longer than 30 minutes. If I'm alone on a trip longer than 30 minutes, I usually go for NPR, where they only play music in the evening. And if their news-y bit is about an up-and-coming musician where they play more than 20 seconds of a given song, I turn off the news, too.
I like the quiet.
And I own a dog. And my sister has six children. And my dog does not like my sister's children. My dog, my small, adorable, precious dog is a yappy dog. To make matters worse, she's yappiest when my sister's kids come around. My sister's kids who are loudest children God ever created. Seriously.
I mean, I lack an inside voice. No joke. My pipes just weren't created that way. I can whisper, and I do, but at a normal speaking volume, my voice carries. Everywhere. To ear that I do not want to hear. To everybody. This works wonders in my chosen profession, but is a bit frustrating at times in my daily life. I'm not really one to yell most of the time. I don't scream. I don't need to. My voice is just bizarrely loud. And if I do raise my voice in a moment of frustration or to be heard over the din, well, it doesn't take much. There's no effort involved. Just a little extra air.
None of which is the point, and which will, at some point, lead to another blog entirely.
So, back to the kids. The really loud kids, whose ability to make noise far surpasses my own natural vocal talents. The ones who think that any walking occasion in which they aren't stomping is a lost opportunity. The ones who think that it would be a waste of energy to approach someone politely and make a request at a normal volume when they can just yell across the house. The ones who think that doors were made to be slammed as they stomp into and out of the house ever three minutes thirty-seven seconds.
The same ones who think that they can drink an entire can of soda, but lose interest 1/3 of the way through and leave the nearly full can on a ledge of some table or the entertainment center or a counter or the floor, which they inevitably end up knocking over later, having forgotten it entirely. Then comes the chaos of noisy soda explosions and adults grumbling. The excuses and justifications, and "I hate you!"s when you ask them to pick up their mess or take their dishes to the sink, or horror of horrors, wash their really smelly, clammy, thoroughly gross hand when they've sneezed into them, and then used their mucous-y saliva to style their cowlicks into submission. The really loud, disrespectful, kind of gross-to-a-germ-hater kids!
I sometimes tell people that I dislike children. Okay, so closer to the truth is, I regularly tell people I dislike children. This, however, is not exactly true. I like children. In theory. I just don't like the disrespect that accompanies my sister's children. And I really dislike the crying, screaming, temper tantrums that accompany other people's kids almost everywhere I see them.
I mean, would it really kill a person to shell out $8.00 for a babysitter when they run to the grocery store so that I'm not subject to their four year old's shrieks and screams over their refusal to buy Twinkies? I mean it's a noise that sets my teeth on edge. It's makes my eardrums pound, and my skin crawl. It's literally physically painful to be in the same store as these noisy hellions people foist on unsuspecting fellow shoppers. And if you can't afford a babysitter once a week, save up and get a dog kennel. And a padlock. Just make sure the kid's got plenty of fresh water available while you run your errands.
I just do not like noise. I like the quiet. I like peace. I like to have a moment to myself. Generally, I like that moment to stretch far longer than any of the moments I'm with other people, no matter how great those other people are. And for those of you who know me, if we talk on the phone, getting past 15 minutes of conversation is a sure sign that I love, respect, enjoy, and miss you! Because at 15 minutes, I'm looking at the clock and wondering how much longer I have to spend feeling weird and uncomfortable before I can find a really great excuse to hang up. And if I really, really, really love, respect, enjoy and miss you, I might even forget to look at the clock. I might even ignore my rather full bladder for 35-40 minutes just to talk to you longer before I tell you how much I love you, and how desperately I need to hang up. And yes, Ms. M., I'm thinking of you ;)
For the rest of you, well, it's kind of torture. Don't get me wrong, I'm willing to endure. To some degree. For some time. But talking on the phone, without actually spending time together, without seeing your face, without any other social cues to pick up on, or a smile to see, or something in a common environment to comment on...well, it's a struggle, and I find myself longing to be able to hang up, and enjoy the quiet.
Which when I do hang up, leaves me with...my dog. My thoroughly loving, adorable, fantastic, small, high-pitched yappy when the kids come over, or the neighbors drive by on their ATVs, or the UPS guy delivers a package, or sees herself in the mirror but doesn't understand the concept of a reflection dog. My dog, whom I love.
My dog who follows me just about everywhere. Especially if I'm the only one home. And if I happen to head to the basement to do laundry or send an email or post to my blog, she'll be standing on the top landing, whimpering for me. My dog. The one who follows me into the bathroom. The one who scratches and whines incessantly at the bathroom door unless I leave it open. The one who comes in to look at me doing my business or taking a bath if I do leave the door open a crack, just so I don't have to listen to the incessant whining and scratching.
And it reminds me of when I was little. When my mother would take a bath. The water would be running, and then it would be off. I'd hear the squeak and rumble of skin moving against the fiberglass tub as she washed herself and shampooed her hair. And this was always followed by silence. It was a silence that was always a lifetime in length, even when it only lasted three minutes. It was a silence I always interrupted. Tentatively creeping up to the bathroom door, softly knocking, holding my breath in fear that my mother's response would be world-weary, terrified that she wouldn't respond at all, steeling myself for the moment I was sure would come, when I would peek around the corner to see blood, pools of blood on the bathroom floor, streaks of blood on the tub surround, the water stained crimson as her life drained away.
I was always terrified that my mother would one day take her own life, with a razor, in the bath tub, determined to get out and seeing no other way. My fear was, I know now as an adult, rooted in my own suicidal thoughts, which had plagued me from the age of five through my adolescence. But eight year olds don't know the word "projection." And so it was with the image of my mother's death swimming before my eyes that I would sigh with relief when she answered, a world-weary "Yes?" and I would reply, "Nothing, mama." And sure enough there would follow a comment about how she could never get a moment's peace, not even in the bathroom, a place where most people would expect they could go and be alone.
Here I am, twenty-some years later, wanting the same quiet I feared so much as a child. Wanting the peace that comes with knowing if it's quiet, I don't have to be perfect, I don't have to perform, I don't have to pretend to be interested in something when I'd rather read a book, that I don't have to cook for and clean up after a child who's utterly ungratefully and totally disrespectful, that I'm not being set-up for failure with mind games and puzzles, and barbed insults that say less about me than the person lobbing them, but which hurt nonetheless. Quiet means my world is my own and I don't have to figure out the right response to someone else's query, the response that tells them I'm listening and supportive in the way they need to hear it. Quiet means that I don't have to have an opinion on anything. It means that I don't have to justify my opinion to anyone. Quiet means I get a moment of peace.
And it makes me wonder how I survived childhood. How is that my mother didn't kill us all just to get a moment's peace? It truly astounds me. Don't get me wrong, I would never kill anyone just to get a moment's peace. But I sometimes wonder if what saves me from doing serious emotional damage to my sister's kids is my ability to remind myself that in just a few more hours, they'll be gone, and I won't have to see them again for at least a week, maybe longer! Even then, there are times when I can't muster up the grace and I tell them, flat-out, they aren't welcome in my space and to, please, just leave me alone, I do not want them near me--and be quiet wherever it is that they may find themselves in the house, and no, we are not watching Spongebob Square Pants again because we've seen that episode 12 times already this weekend and I'd rather watch the Rachel Maddow show.
And I remind myself that there will come a day when I won't be awoken by my dog curling up in the groove of my pillow, leaving me with acne and itchy eyes (did I mention I'm allergic to dogs), and that one day soon, she'll prefer her kennel to her bed, just as she recently moved from my bed to her own. There will come a day when I can go to the bathroom or to do my laundry and she might follow me like a shadow, but then again she might not. And there will come a day when she won't follow me at all, when she'll join my last dog in a wooden box on my dresser, with a just a picture and paw print set in clay.
And I remind myself that giving up a little peace and quiet now means getting a little more time with people I want to love (and sometimes think I actually might). It means another morning waking up with my dog in my face, a dog I definitely love. It means a few more minutes on the phone, connecting with people I value, and accepting that circumstances prevent what I would prefer--a cup of coffee on a shared couch. So I'll make do with what is available to me, even if I'm not a fan of talking on the phone. Something is better than nothing.
And I'll find peace and quiet where I can. I will take it when I really do need it. And I'll try not to grumble too much when going without, for a few hours, means blessing someone else.