Last night I was awoken by the dulcet tones of my children bickering in the kitchen.
This was not a new phenomenon. What was new, however, was the way I reacted to it. Rather than getting up and shooing them away (because I’ve learned the hard way that laying in bed and yelling at them is pointless—the yell without the glare has no real power), instead I lay there smiling to myself. Even when the argument carried over into my bedroom, and therefore within glaring range (there has never been a “no fly zone” when it comes to the airing of grievances in my family), I still reacted favorably. Why? Because listening to them argue with each other made me realize that they were both home, and safe, and I knew that when I finally settled the argument (“you’re both wrong”) and shooed them out the door, I would sleep much better for knowing that. And besides, I knew that if I could hear them arguing they couldn’t be getting into that much trouble.
What can I say? When it comes to my children, silence is not golden; silence is suspicious. And it always has been.
The only time they have ever felt the need to be quiet is when they are trying (usually unsuccessfully) to get away with something. Crashing, banging, and shouting? All good. Deathly silence? They’re in the middle of painting a catsup masterpiece on the wall. Or worse.
The same is even more true now that they are teenagers. Bursting through the front door in a cacophony of dropped backpacks, kicked off shoes and shouts of “I’m starving: do we have any food?” means there was a normal day at school. Slinking in and actually hanging up the backpack and putting away the shoes? Probably something bad happened, maybe even so bad that I should expect a phone call in my very near future.
But as much as I appreciate the fact that a noisy child is typically a guilt-free child, there is more to my love of a noisy house than that. There is also the feeling of contentment that comes from a house filled with noise, or rather, as I like to think of it, with life.
Think of all the times you’ve stood outside a house and heard the susurrus of conversations, the gentle clink of cutlery against china, and the sharp sound of the occasional laugh spilling out of an open window. There is just something comforting about it, whether you are a member of the party yourself who has just stepped outside for a breath of fresh air or a stranger passing by on your way to somewhere else. In the same way that the glow of a campfire still soothes something primordial in us, the sound of other people—especially other people enjoying themselves—quiets our deepest fears of being alone.
But wait a minute, you say—how can you liken listening to your children argue to listening to strangers have a good time? Well, for my children, arguing with each other is having a good time. At the very least it is comfortable, like the ratty old shirt you put on after a hard day at work.
Because the nice thing—and sometimes the awful thing—about families is that we don’t need to be polite. We don’t have to couch our complaints in compliments and platitudes, or even take the office route and hang up passive aggressive shaming notes. When we are displeased, we let each other know. Sometimes loudly. Almost always rudely. And, very frequently, in the middle of the kitchen in the middle of the night.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.