I am a peaceful Virgo-type person. The TV is not on for background noise in my house. I don’t automatically turn the radio on when I get in the car. I have disabled the sound feature on my computer. I often daydream about permanently relocating my family to a library, museum, or church just to be engulfed in mandatory silence. So it came as an unwelcome caffeine-like jolt when the loudness of motherhood consumed my life.
Oh, sure, infants scream with unpredictable car-alarm frequency. I’m not complaining about a baby crying to communicate hunger or tiredness. Books about “expecting” warned me to expect that. No: I’m referring to the constant push-pull dynamics of two young brothers who poke and prod one another, then race around the house in an atomic shifting energy ball of dust, candy wrappers, sporting equipment, and Legos. They produce … noise.
Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I worked for United Airlines. As a flight attendant. For a decade. I was a person who knew her way around jet-engine-loud occupational hazards. You’d think this would have prepared me for my current triple-digit-decibels lifestyle. Here you would be wrong.
The Husband and I have coined a phrase (one that you’ll surely adopt in everyday conversation): “Laughter precedes crying.” When the boys start giggling and having a great time, we know that inevitably there will be a loud bang (perhaps a thud) which will immediately be followed by shrieking and wailing. It’s gotten to the point that if The Husband and I hear laughter close by, we’ll look at each, then initiate a countdown (“I predict crying in 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 …”).
Sometimes the children’s theatrics must be shared with others, say, at the check-out lane at Target. What is the proper protocol in that situation? Abandon the cart and immediately leave the premises (which is what the so-called parenting “experts” would recommend)? I stare wistfully at my ruby-red shopping cart full of shampoo, paper towels, Band Aids, laundry detergent, kitty litter, Tylenol, and Star magazine—who exactly is being punished here if I don’t complete my purchase?
I frequently socialize with some acquaintances who have perfectly-behaved little angel children, children who sit quietly, read, draw, and do what they are told. The Husband and I have a special secret code name for these Stepford kids: girls.
Mommies of girls have no inkling that the rest of us inhabit an alternate tornado universe of chaos, confusion, and noise. These well-meaning Parents Of Obedient Females (POOFs) will say things like, “Gosh, the house was so quiet today when Jessica was reading to Hayley!” (and the equally cruel follow-up, “I got sooooo much done!”).
When familiar POOFs spot me and my sons at the grocery store, and approach to say a cheery hello (accompanied by adorable little Hayleys in ironed white linen dresses napping in clean strollers), I duck down the wine aisle and pretend I don’t see them. Of course they find us though: the noise Tall and Short produce makes it easy for people five states away to find us.
I would love to be BFF with these POOFs, I really would … it’s just that we don’t have a lot in common. Oh, sure, we’ve both changed thousands of poopy diapers, subsisted on a steady diet of cold pizza and stale Chips Ahoy! cookies, and yet … it’s like I’ve lived in a foreign country for seven years and now I’m fluent in that language (say, French)—not merely conversational, but native-speaker-fluent—and the POOF says, “Oh, wow, what a coincidence because I totally speak French, too!” and then it turns out all she can say is, “Bon jour” or “ballet.” I want to scream (see, the being-around-boys has rubbed off on me), “That doesn’t count, POOF!”
I’m bracing for more than a few angry emails from POOFs right this second, armed with their tales of woe (precious little Jessica banging on the piano for two minutes, or Hayley screaming at Halloween and piercing an elderly neighbor’s eardrum). Ha—I don’t believe you. And, anyway, so what—one eardrum casualty on a holiday? That’s the best you can do? We have our eardrums pierced nightly in our boisterous household. (And as an aside: shouldn’t that be spelled “boysterous”?)
So. I would love to finish this essay, but it will have to wait. I hear some laughter in the next room.
(“Motherhood: Obscenely Vocal”)