Stop Wishing Away the Noise

I love silence. Total quiet. No background white noise, chatter, or random sounds. Just total quiet. God thought it would be the ultimate in ironic noise inducement to put me in a setting saturated with loud commotion- a house full of boys. 

I hate the clamor, and I wish away the noise on a daily basis.

I just need it to be quiet! I need to hear myself think,  process,  marinate the day! 

What must that be like?

I did a house call this week. A few times a semester I teach technology workshops at my local community college for senior citizens, and on occasion I will visit their homes to help set up their desktop computer or get their tablets connected to wifi. I had a house call last Tuesday.

As I walked up to John’s house,  I could see him pacing in the front room. His yard was exquisitely  manicured-no stray footballs, empty juice boxes, or snack wrappers. He opened the door eagerly, and I knew his whole day would be planned and centered around this one hour we would spend together.  John is in his early 80s, a great grand parent, a former higher up in our state’s department of education, and a recent widow. 

While he went to gather his iPad and his list of hand written questions for me,  I looked around the house. Everything was eerily still, and perfectly in its place; chairs pushed in, pillows fluffed, books standing tall and flush on shelves, and framed photographs of graduations and anniversaries  dusted clean and arranged to precision on end tables. Nothing gets knocked down or broken here I thought. I imagined when he brought groceries home and put them away, they would be in the same exact place he left them on the fridge shelf the next day. And the day after that. When he set down the TV remote it would stay there, and be there when he went back for it. The glass patio doors would remain open if he wanted, and would stay that way all day- nobody sliding them open and shut and open again- and they were fingerprint free. Like forever. Indoor plants were scattered around much of the house and on the porch. They were lush and green, their long leaves spilling out over the sides of pastel ceramic pots. You could tell they were taken care of with an abundance of love and care.  I bet his wife was a plant lover I thought.  

He sat next to me on clean, crisp couch cushions, and as I worked updating his phone and iPad, I anticipated and listened for the noise. But there wasn’t any. Where was it? Whenever I am on my phone or computer or iPad, a cacophony of insanity is playing in the background; someone singing "Hey Jessie…hey Jessie," microwave beeping, fridge opening, pantry door closing, teens stomping up the stairs, phones trilling,  washer spinning, dishwasher whooshing.  Here, now, there was just silence, total quiet. If his houseplants could talk, I imagine they would tell me, “It’s always like this. It’s great for hearing yourself think, to process, to marinate your day. But it’s not great for LIVING. Don’t wish away the noise. Noise is life.”  

The peacefulness around me was quietly soothing, but it was also deafening. It didn’t hurt my ears. It hurt my heart.

We finished up, then shared small talk about college football. John is a lifelong University of Florida fan, and I enjoyed every single second of him showing me his Gator sports memorabilia  room, and talking about rivalries and how wonderfully loud it gets in his stadium. How the loud noise just makes you feel alive.

I’m going to be living in a house like John’s in a matter of a few blinks. In between the blaring TV, the constantly crashing furniture, and the raucous play of boys, years will pass in warp speed. The noise of life in this house will float out my front door, in the form of young men leaving and waving goodbye, who will be ready to produce their own noises in their own homes. 

As always happens after I spend time with older folks, I learn something invaluable. 

I’m going to miss the noises of life here in my house. 

The quiet is not all its cracked up to be. 

And don’t, just don’t for one single second, wish the noise away.  

It is those loud rowdy sounds, that although may hurt our ears, they fill our hearts. 

They are love. They are LIFE.

Surviving the Parenting Roller Coaster Ride

I live on a street mostly occupied by retired couples. They spend their days doing retirement type things; golf, tennis, walking, working out, volunteering, reading, gardening. I watch them go about their golden years,   smiling and seemingly enjoying the slow lifestyle and relaxed days. 

And I just want to ask them one question.

 I want to walk up to them, grab them by the shoulders, look into their calm faces and at the top of my lungs ask, 


Just that one question. 

And then I want them to spill their guts about the insane roller coaster ride of parenting they just spun around a billion times on , and are lucky enough to have finally been told “Take your personal belongings (anything that is left that the kid’s haven’t destroyed), grab your spouse by the hand (if you’re still talking to each other), and disembark. You’re done people!”

How did you do it? 

How did you make it to this point? 

How did the stress and chaos of the parenting roller coaster not actually kill you?

I think about asking this question to them more and more these days, as our family is in what feels like a great transition. I have a high school senior getting ready to leave the nest, but still a hatchling in so many ways. I have another teenager navigating his own adolescence, in the shadow of the first kid who is stealing the college spotlight, yet more mature and still 2+ years away from his own independence. I have a newly minted middle schooler, who I just noticed for the first time this week, is sporting a body now that is sightly changing, his chin structure losing a bit of chubby youth, and squaring out slightly. His self-reliance is both satisfying and guilt enduring. Is that autonomy the result of my neglect? Or is it accidental free range parenting? And then there’s the one we still call “the baby.” He’s eight.  He’s loud. He has grown up  with one desire and one desire only; to do everything the big boys do. God help him. 

Everyone is changing so quickly, the ride is speeding up. 

I want to get off for a little while. Did they ever want get off?

I want to ask the retired couples how they made it through the tough weeks, the ones where words are spewed between kids and parents that are filled with anything but joy and kindness. The weeks where kid logistics planning takes precedence over marital intimacy. Weeks where uniforms are lost, homework is lost, patience is lost, and we are out of toilet paper. Again. Where cars break down, hot water heaters explode, business deals go awry, and a well planned and graciously prepared dinner sits uneaten on the kitchen counter, because exhaustion, attitude, selfishness, and disrespect all converge at the same time and among every member of our family. Just because. 

Just because some weeks are tough like that. 

The retired people I have the pleasure of seeing everyday sometimes actually help me get through the tough weeks.  They made it! They did it!  Maybe I can too! They had newborns and sleepless nights, toddlers and tantrums, they had rough and tumble kids and goofy tweens, they had mind numbing teenagers and partying college co-eds. They helped navigate fledgling graduates into new apartments and new careers. They married off sons and daughters, moved them across the country, or even  across the world. They bravely rode the parenting roller coaster, they probably screamed and cried on it, undoubtedly at the beginning, most assuredly in the middle, and definitely at the end.  

But they got off smiling.

I won’t ever actually get the chance to ask them my one question, and there’s a wonderful and perfectly good  reason why I can’t. Because when we talk, right after they ask me about my family, their face brightens and their grin widens. “Wanna see a recent picture of the grandkids?” they’ll ask. And just like that, all the tough weeks they endured as parents, the years struggling on the parenting coaster, all of it will melt away in memory. Gone. Like they never happened. 

In my heart, I already know the answer to my big one question, so I don’t ever ask it. 

“The ride was great!” they will say. “Man that ride went by so fast. I wish I could ride it again!” they’ll add. “Stay on the ride as long as you can!” “The best part is I get to ride it again, with all these amazing grandchildren. Wanna see a recent picture?”

Turns out I'll make it off this insane ride eventually, and from what I can tell, the next one is a well deserved reward for the first. You see, you can get off when you want (send the grandkids home.

Now that's a ride I can handle.