When I was a kid, sometimes we would get in the car and ask for the radio to be turned on, and instead of switching the dial to her usual Oldies station, my mom would say, “Let’s just have some quiet for a bit.” I didn’t get it.
Why would we want quiet when we could have music? Music is awesome. Quiet is boring. I could not fathom why she would say this, and more, I was really annoyed when she would. I hated quiet car rides. But, every once in a while, even music was too much for my mother.
I spent most of my childhood and young adult life filling silence. I hated it. I slept with the TV on, I played music while I studied - anything to fill that void. My mind would race otherwise, and I needed noise to distract it. Quiet gave me anxiety – because quiet was never quiet. Quiet it was a way for me to hear very specific noises that were usually drowned out, and of course, for my imagination to convince me those noises indicated danger. Anxiety is a bitch, especially when combined with youthful imagination.
Then I had kids. I no longer needed to find ways to fill the silence, because children are loud as hell. Their toys are loud, their feet are loud, their voices are loud, their thoughts are loud, everything about them is loud – all the time.
Ambient music was replaced with temper tantrums and laughter and robust play. Rather than a way to fill empty sound space, the TV became something to use to quiet the children. At night time, I had a snoring spouse. I had ears tuned-in to listen for baby noises, or bigger kids getting out of their beds.
Instead of carefully cultivated symphonies of sounds I had chosen, I became immersed in involuntary, constant noise. And then, one fateful day, I said the words I never expected to escape my mouth. “Let’s just have some quiet for a bit.” I had officially turned into my mother. I completely understood why she had said it, and more shockingly, I agreed with her.
Quiet has become somewhat of a commodity now. True quiet holds value. Many days, once the kids have gone to school, when I haven’t quite shaken off the sleep from the night before, I will sit in a chair in my living room in absolute silence and do absolutely nothing. Quiet is an activity now. It’s deliberate. It’s restorative. Like water to thirst, those moments of quiet nothingness fill a need I never expected to have. Where the absence of sound once caused me anxiety, it now calms my over-stimulated nerves.
I don’t know if it’s the kids that caused this shift, or if it is simply a part of growing up, but I need those stolen moments of peace - of total nothingness. Those moments are productive use of my time.
And those once in a while times I insist on the TV being off, or radio-silence in the car, my kids moan and groan. “Quiet is boring,” they say. They want the music. They want the noise. And I get their frustrations. But one day, not so long from now, they will turn to their children, and they will say, “Let’s just have some quiet for a bit.”