One must learn to be silent just as one must learn to walk. ~ Victoria Wolf
Lately I’ve been thinking about quiet. Or maybe I should say that I have been thinking about noise, and how difficult it is to get rid of. Our home is a pretty quiet place by modern standards; we live rurally and are surrounded by hay fields and spruce forests. Our personal soundscapes are composed of some of the gentler sounds on the auditory spectrum: birdsong, fires in the woodstove, wind in the trees, rain on the roof. We also make an effort not to bring in too much noise from outside. Radio and TV and noisy toys are limited or not invited in at all. Of course our home is also the residence of two busy, active little boys and they bring with them all sorts of happy ruckus. But the noise I’ve been trying to get rid of in our home isn’t the sound of radios or rowdy children. It is the noise of the well-intentioned, over- talkative parent, which would be, well, me.
I think of myself as a pretty quiet person- always the shy girl growing up, and more of a listener than a talker. Yet somehow as a parent I have found myself to be quite the one-sided conversationalist. I catch myself talking an awful lot to my young children: explaining, reasoning, questioning, instructing, lecturing. And I notice that the more I talk to my children, the less they seem to listen. I constantly have to remind myself that less is more when it comes to communicating with children; much of the time a few simple words are all that is needed, and often, no words are needed at all. When I am conscious of cultivating a quieter way of being, I am amazed at how much more settled my children seem, and how few words are needed to get us through our days. A gentle touch on the shoulder seems to be as strong a reminder to my children to stop and pay attention as any words could be. And humming the same tune every time we are getting dressed to go outside helps us to get out the door without all the reminders and nagging that can slip in when I am not paying attention.
I think it is no coincidence that my children seem more content and at ease when I am able to quiet down. For these little people whose realities are still so dreamy and malleable, my running commentary serves mostly to distract them and keep them from sinking into their experience. I keep reminding myself of one obvious equation: there is less room for my children’s thoughts and ideas if I am filling up the air with my own. And I know that I want a home that has enough room for all of us.
I remember a time when this seemed particularly clear, on a walk our family took when we were visiting friends across the country. My husband and I had been making an effort to quiet down with our children at home, but here, with friends who were eager to show us their stomping grounds, and us eager to share it with our children, we forgot our manners and started calling out new things to the children at every turn. “Look! A frog! A turtle! A cardinal!” “Look at these acorns!” “These feathers!” “These amazing rocks!” There were explanations about bird habitat and frog lifecycles. And our children were running from one thing to the next, excited, but unsettled too, unable to sink into any one experience. In our own excitement we were actually limiting their experience of this place we wanted to share with them. They couldn’t be explorers with us telling them what to look for, they couldn’t be naturalists with us making all the discoveries for them. They could only be collectors of experiences, and that can be a tiresome job.
And their tiredness soon became apparent- they were losing steam, dragging their feet and asking to be carried, to go back to the car. And then, around the next bend was a little creek. It wasn’t much to look at, more of a drainage ditch than anything, something most adults would step over on their way to somewhere else. But the kids gravitated to it. Soon small fists and pockets were filled with stones for throwing into the muddy water, and they were completely engaged in the project. They squeezed mud between their fingers and found bugs hiding under a rock. At first the adults looked a little antsy- this wasn’t really the plan, but soon there was a sort of collective intake of breath and we all settled into this little space in the woods. And it was peaceful there, the dappled green light through the trees, the faint trickle of water over the stones, the sound of happy children playing.
There beneath the trees it was so clear. The children didn’t need us to broadcast the details of the world around them, they didn’t need it all explained or described or analyzed. They needed us to sit tight and just be present. Sure they might have missed that turtle if we hadn’t pointed it out, they might not have had as many feathers to take home, but I think of all that we must fail to notice when we forget to quiet down with our children. On that day we could have missed that dappled green corner of the forest, that little creek and its muddy banks. Instead we were able to walk back with our contented children, taking that feeling of quiet home with us.
Taisa lives in rural British Columbia, Canada with her husband and two small children. She blogs at small wonders.