In a house with kids, silence is nearly impossible to find. If it’s not Daniel Tiger warbling his painfully catchy tunes from the television, it’s a frenzied dispute over whose turn it is to play with the newest baby doll. Tired voices gnaw at my ears and impatient mouths beg for attention. Chatter drifts from one room to the next, accompanied by the pitter-patter of always hurried, never graceful, tiny feet.
Work provides little reprieve from the noise. High school students are in a constant state of elevated conversation. Five days a week, the halls buzz with adrenaline and volume. Classrooms ring with stories and questions and mental gears that are constantly shifting. It’s a joy to watch them learn, but any teacher will tell you that thinking makes the loudest racket of them all.
I’ve always been sensitive to sound, shielding my ears from the slightest hint of a raised voice or sudden clang. Without periodic pauses from the day’s physical and mental chaos, the shouting consumes me. Once when I was little, after narrowly escaping a fender bender, my mom looked in the backseat to find my eyes open wide and my fingers in my ears. Even at seven, I knew and feared the power of noise.
Not just the hearing kind, either. Mental dialogue lingers long after the day is over. Did I work enough? Play enough? Be enough? It’s the universal tune of motherhood – ruthless refrains making their nightly debut. My mute button is digital distraction. A composite of Netflix shows, Pandora favorites, and Twitter feeds provide everything but sustainable relief and yet I cling to them like they alone will save me from the discourse.
I am a slave to the fallacy of virtual quiet.
Last night I was sitting on the couch watching the girls carefully rearrange their dollhouse furniture. Supper had been eaten, baths had been taken, and I could feel the looming threat of bedtime seizing my nerves. Tantrums were on the horizon. Without one iota of conscious consideration, I picked up my phone and began to peruse the latest happenings of Facebook. Although it felt innocent at the time, in retrospect it was clear avoidance of discomfort.
This is not my kind of silence.
In fact, this is not silence at all.
This is fuel for the noisy fire – an added crash of cymbals, a supplemental scream. It gains volume as it festers, using delayed delivery to its advantage. I know from experience that no one benefits from postponed pain but Twitter and Facebook and Netflix couldn’t care less.
Daily, I give them subconscious permission to intensify my self-doubt.
But what if I stopped?
What if I started defining silence not as a distracted glance at my phone, but as a compassionate moment with myself?
The idea, though unrivaled in appeal, comes with its share of reservations. I’m an active participant in the instant gratification culture that surrounds me, and the idea of seeking true peace – the kind that creates the bravest of bedtime warriors, for example – doesn’t promise immediate results. It takes time, patience, and a lengthy look at the uncomfortable feelings my devices have thus far kept at bay. Emotions don’t file themselves into clean categories; they don’t sit quietly in pre-labeled drawers, waiting to be retrieved at will. They are disordered and erratic and everything I fear.
Still, shouldn’t I at least try?
Digital noise may be loud, but like that little girl in the back of the car with her fingers in her ears, perhaps I have no obligation to listen.
Written by Kara Overton. Kara is a wife, mother, teacher, and recovering slave to the fallacy of virtual quiet. Her work has been published by BLUNTmoms, Mamalode, BonBon Break, and in the HerStories anthology Mothering Through the Darkness. You can find her on Twitter, on Facebook, and on her blog, An Adventure Story.
Photo by Taylor Johnson Photography.