Oct 23 2016

A Wish for a Quiet Life

In our house, something is always, always making noise.

Sometimes it’s the drone of whichever football game is forever playing in the background (until I beg my husband to please, just for one second, mute that thing). Sometimes it’s the beeping and blooping of those mechanical toys we totally regret buying, so incessant that we almost don’t hear them until they start playing in our dreams. Sometimes it’s the hysterical bark of our dog, who is absolutely beside herself with joy because the UPS guy just rang the doorbell and that must mean COMPANY, Y’ALL!

And after that, the noise generally includes some combination of sobbing mixed with irrational demands, because two children have just been ripped out of a (rare) sound sleep and they are super unhappy about it. #ThanksBeaker.

In our house, you will hear the baby pounding his fork against the high chair tray because he wants his honeydew NOW but doesn’t know how to ask yet. You will hear plates and sippy cups clatter to the floor the second he decides he is finished — and no one will clean it up for several minutes, because on the other side of the kitchen, his sister is yelling, “Mommy, may I have some milk please? Mommy, may I have some milk please? MOMMY! MAY I HAVE SOME MILK PLEASE?!” seventy-five times in a row without taking a breath, and someone must sprint to the fridge to reward her for actually using the word please (and also to pour the milk so that the noise might FINALLY stop).

In our house, it seems like someone is always screaming: the baby at 4 AM. The three-year-old because she does not want to wear those socks. Me because NO ONE IS FRICKING LISTENING. Someone is stealing someone else’s toys. Someone is accidentally crushing someone else’s fingers.

There is always noise. SO much noise that, when our young, fun, not-yet-parent friends come over, they sometimes give each other That Look and say, “Wow…I mean…there’s just so much going on.”

Oh, yes. Totally. It’s called chaos.

Most of the time, it’s nearly impossible to find enough silence to complete a sentence. Trains of thought derail at alarming speeds and go careening toward the Brain Black Hole. And last night, after attempts to have an actual conversation were thwarted by seventeen different interruptions, I turned to my husband and scooped up two fistfuls of my own hair.

“I just want a quiet life!” I said. “Seriously, I cannot take it sometimes!”

I grabbed my keys and left for the grocery store, alone. I could not start my car fast enough — and for thirty glorious minutes, there was silence. No screaming. No whining. No chaos.

Yes — THIS. This, my friends, was a thing of beauty.

There was just one small problem with my request: a quiet life would be missing too many other noises.

I would have to give up the sound of my baby’s bare feet, squishy and unsteady, padding across the hardwood floor, the rustle of his diaper as he tries with all his might to keep up with his agile sister. I wouldn’t get to hear his contagious bursts of belly laughter during Peek-A-Boo, or his cries of “Ba! Ba!” when he wants me to bite his toes.

There would be no excited chatter on the way home from preschool, my daughter thirsty for play dates and promises and information. There would be no stories and no silly voices. No mischievous giggles from the backseat. No one would ask me to sing with her.

I would lose the sound of my oldest baby reading to my youngest baby. I would lose that little voice, still unguarded and precious and pure, teaching her little brother the difference between a plane and a truck. I would lose the notes of all the songs that make him dance this way.

I wouldn’t get to hear his tiny breaths as I carry him to bed, or her pleas for a new brother or sister “because I just love him so much.” I wouldn’t get to hear her delighted gasps at all the things that are still magical to her: Crickets. Rain puddles. The moon. I wouldn’t get to hear her whisper “amen” after prayers.

I would miss the aww sound my baby makes when he gives his favorite stuffed elephant a hug, and his soft, gentle babbles while he practices his words. His joyful shrieks in the swimming pool. Her squeals of triumph when she masters a brand new big-kid skill. I would miss the sound of my daughter kissing every boo-boo on my skin, and the way she always, always calls out for an “extra hug and kiss” as I leave her room at bedtime.

I take back my wish. There are too many noises that are too important. It was a peaceful, quiet life for a long time before they were here, and it will be endlessly, emptily quiet again once they have grown up and moved on.

For now, thirty minutes is just enough.

About Melissa

Melissa is a SAG-AFTRA actress and former high school teacher from Michigan who (reluctantly) moved across the country when she was six months pregnant. She is the winner of the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest and a past winner of the Breakwater Review Fiction Prize (selected by Susanna Kaysen, author of Girl, Interrupted), the F(r)iction flash fiction competition, and The Writer's inaugural personal essay contest, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, HuffPost, Scary Mommy, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others. She has been shortlisted for both the Bridport Prize and the Bath Flash Fiction Award and was recently selected for The Best Small Fictions and the Wigleaf Top 50. Melissa is represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

12 comments on “A Wish for a Quiet Life

  1. I remember when my children were very young and I could tell what they were doing by the noises they were making (or sometimes not making). My oldest just went to college (one of your mom’s many students at COE), and I miss his noise. I miss the sound of his car, or the closing of doors until midnight, his music but mostly his voice. Our house is still busy – there are still 3 kids at home- but his sounds are gone. Our house is like a symphony of noise that’s missing the percussion section. Embrace your beautiful chaos now and because the silence will be deafening.

  2. I often think of those days ( I’m now 73 ) and wonder how I did everything! You brought back the hectic, and wonderful moments of being a mom. It’s a chapter in life that ends too soon; yet brings peace when it does.
    My favorite chapter after that has been being a Nana…. More of those warm, cuddly times with babies and toddlers. Now they are teenagers and I can enjoy their pursuits from a distance, without the worries as they spread their wings!

  3. Beautiful Melissa. I love the way you write a.d your topics. Your michigan article was amazing. My 34 year old daughter just moved her family a 3 year and 1 year old and 2 dogs from fl to n.c. And their house is not ready.

  4. Well said! I too need absolute silence once in a while to think, but love that most of my day I am surrounded by chaos that gives meaning to my life. 🙂

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