All’s Quiet On The Midwestern Front
My son does not know how to not make noise. Mostly through talking, but also through singing and sound effects such as gunfire, explosions and the screams of villains and heroes alike. All on top of the background noise of stomping, toys equipped with sound effects and crashing furniture. All the various childhood activity clamor.
An advantage of this ‘condition,’ is that he is always easy to find, even when he is hiding. “Can you find me? Can you find me?” Yes, even though I thought the ‘go hide and I’ll come find you’ trick might buy me 45 seconds of quiet. Also, he cannot help but reveal every detail of every event in his life, real or imagined, so his mother and I get the benefit of his brutal honesty about everything, always, from whether or not he received a behavior warning at school that day, usually for talking, to what he thought could be improved in the lunch his mother provided for him that day. That last advantage is really more of a start of the downslide toward the long list of drawbacks.
The drawbacks are myriad and sweeping, and range from not being able to have a conversation with someone who is not him, to not being able to hear the television. That TV one makes me a bad father, I realize (“Please stop trying to emotionally connect with me, I’m trying to watch a fake family try to fake emotionally connect.”). The simplest drawback is one we don’t always remember until he has fallen asleep – that we have forgotten what quiet sounds like. Sweet, precious, golden quiet.
At school conferences, his teachers call him ‘social,’ with a tone that deepens with each rising grade level. His mom and I sheepishly agree, and promise to help him curb his need for constant interaction, knowing full well we have no idea how to do this, and have not ever succeeded to even dent his noise-making armor.
Even right now, as I type this, he is acting out a fight between two plastic dinosaur toys just inches from my keyboard. “Daddy look, Daddy look, grrrraaarrr!” “Yes, I see. Yes, I see. Yes, there it is right in front of my face, I see it, right effing there, biting holes in my train of thought.”
What was I typing? Oh yeah. Part of the problem, maybe all of it, is that our efforts to quiet him are too subtle. His endless social engagement and imagination come from a place of happiness – an exuberance with his life, a sense of identity. And we as his parents cherish this for him, and cannot bring ourselves to squelch it. Like all young children, he does not ask, ‘who am I, why am I here?’ – a question that will no doubt creep up soon enough, as his perspective widens with maturity. And there’s no need to rush that existential cross we each eventually build for ourselves to carry. After experiencing some of the more serious downsides of being a grown-up, as we all have and will, I have come to believe that among the many responsibilities of parenthood is the effort to provide your child with as carefree and happy a childhood as possible.
We realize fully that being an only child and our sole focus for his entire life has taught him that he is the center of the universe. And so, when people are treating him as though he is not the center of said universe, he seems to feel the need to remind everyone within earshot that they are wrong, that we all orbit around him, and so all attention gravity must pull back toward him for the moon and tides and all to remain in balance.
But his talkative nature has been the case since day one, it seems, rather than learned via our undivided attention. Before he could talk he would vocalize almost constantly. And when he first began to piece words together, he would talk until his throat was sore. He would talk until he fell asleep mid-statement, and had at times, quite literally, woken up and finished that statement.
And still now, while in the shower: “Daddy, what’s a baselisk?” (From Harry Potter?) While using the bathroom (him, or me): “Daddy, do you know the difference between a pterodactyl and a pteranodon?” (Because he wants to know? Or because he wants to demonstrate that he knows and I don’t?). He is also the very worst ninja of all time; stealth being surely the most basic of skills for even the most novice of ninjas. “I’m sneaking up on you. You don’t see me.” Pretty sure that’s not how that works.
And, anytime we are driving anywhere, even the 90 seconds it takes to drive to school. “Daddy, do you want to play Fighter Pilots? Police Patrol? Coast Guard Rescue Ship? Tank Battle?” Sometimes Daddy just wants to drive. I’ve even said, “let’s pretend we’re a father and son driving somewhere and we’re very late so the dad has to concentrate on driving.” “Okay, daddy. The daddy is speeding. That’s dangerous and against the law. The mommy would be mad.” I know Mommy will hear about the speeding at dinner later, but she will smile, knowing her driving has always been speedier. For now, as long as we are pretending, and he can narrate what is happening, he is content.
So, fine. Talk, son. Talk and talk and talk. We’ve all heard a parent say “he’s going to be an architect” while watching their son build some simplistic and precarious block mound. Or, “she’s going into fashion” because she’s wearing a tutu and cowgirl vest at the grocery store.
What will our son be? The sole anchor of a 24-hour news channel? The next great actor to don the famous screaming Godzilla suit? A professional diversion while others sneak quietly elsewhere? Sure, there’s ‘radio announcer’ or ‘politician,’ but he has given me more fantastical hopes, and louder expectations.