When one of my daughters was 15, life was complicated. She was angry, not uncommon at that age. I was pretty angry at 15, too, and many of my friends have bemoaned the emotional roller-coaster that is life with a teenager. She was also acting out, again not abnormal for the age. And this particular progeny has always been vocal about the things in her life, good and bad, so life had sort of a running soundtrack of her carrying on conversations (and not infrequently arguments and screaming fits) Life was anything BUT quiet.
Through a series of unfortunate events (and some really bad decisions), she wound up being a passenger in a car accident that left her with a mild concussion and her jaw broken in three places, and we got lucky — she was the least injured of the kids in the car she was in.
The injury was severe enough that she needed to have her jaw wired shut so it could heal, and I remember saying to my partner as we were figuring out how to navigate the situation, “Maybe we’ll get some quiet, anyway.” Ah, the innocence… It’s amazing how loud people can be when their jaw is wired shut.
It’s amazing how loud people can be when their jaw is wired shut.
When this global pandemic really became “real” and we started working from home and life shrank to essentially what could be seen and experienced within the walls of my home, I thought, “Well, at least I’ll get some quiet time.”
I really need to stop challenging the universe like that!
While I love that I’ve gained several hours in my week due to not commuting every day, and I have *far* better coffee at home than in the office, and there’s a laundry list of ways that working at home is truly AMAZING, I realized yesterday, on my eleventy-zillionth zoom call since this all began, that QUIET is in short supply.
My pets are delighted that we’re all home far more than usual and make that appreciation known by showering us with attention. I’ve got cats crawling on my lap or my shoulder or just booping me for some affection, and a dog who has taken to laying at my feet with his backside just touching my leg as if to say “I’ve got you! You’re safe!” (or, more likely, “I want to be the first to know if there’s ANY chance we’re going for walkies!”)
Two of my kids (including one mentioned earlier) still live at home, working and going to school, and I love the increased number of casual chats we have, sitting on the couch or the back deck, cups of that (vastly superior) coffee in hand as we solve the problems of the universe. And my spouse and I see each other far more often, too, which is, on balance, a great thing.
I come from a big, loud family (I have five younger, boisterous brothers who roughhoused like a pack of wolfhound puppies). I left that world to join the military, filled with communal (and not-quiet) living, and then quickly became a parent of my own brood. I’ve been a mom for almost thirty years, and over half of those were as a single parent.
For most of my life, “Solitude” or “Time to Think” often looked like 45 seconds in the bathroom by myself, albeit with tiny fingers wiggling under the door or somebody yelling outside. And in all fairness, I am an extravert extraordinaire. I find myself more often than not refilling my batteries by communing with others, and I’ve found the (relative) isolation of quarantine to be a bit of a starvation diet when it comes to those opportunities. Even so, I do need time to percolate, dream, create.
So yesterday on this Zoom call (and I do not think it’s happenstance that it was with a group called “This ExtraOrdinary Life”!), we were discussing the value of creative spaces, where our minds are freed from the sort of “transactional work” that we often value as “doing the work”, but isn’t always great for processing or innovating or just building new neural pathways. Many of us need “thinking time” to allow our minds to digest our experiences.
Some people find this in a comfortable chair alone with their thoughts, some on a yoga mat, some while introspectively journaling, some while running or in the gym. And as we were talking about this “place where the magic happens” I had one of those moments where I was almost overcome by an intensely visceral yearning for that space in my life, and I was taken aback!
I realized that for ME, throughout my life, my daily commute was that “intellectual buffer time”, partly just because it was the one part of my routine that nobody could steal. As a kid, I had am hour-long bus ride to school each way, and I used that time as “intellectual downtime”. Although nobody would call a schoolbus ride “quiet”, it was time I had to myself, without other demands or expectations.
And as an adult, that has continued. Nobody will schedule a recurring meeting over my commute. My loved ones and coworkers (small overlap there.. haha! Mostly kidding) can’t just pop in unexpectedly during the drive. *I* can’t opt for a coffee date or some other use of the time. I (used to) have to commute. And in a world that hyper-values “I’m So Busy”, those periods of forced “downtime” allow me to take advantage of something that has felt like a guilty pleasure in a world that worships the “cult of busy”.
Those periods of unscheduled time became a sort of accidental pillar that I didn’t appreciate until it wasn’t there anymore, and I’ve been so busy trying to feed my social butterfly, it didn’t dawn on me that my “cognitive caterpillar” needed some love, too.
I am grateful that we have a large enough home that at least at 630am, I can still sit in relative isolation and drink my coffee (usually), and ponder the mysteries of life. I know there are tons of people out there whose children are in the “hands-on” stage of life, or who are crammed into uncomfortably close quarters and trying to still maintain a modicum of productivity, and my heart (and nerves) go out to them.
This extrovert just needs to do some thinking on how to create a more reliably sacred “quiet time” in the day, because that’s the secret ingredient that’s been missing if I want to keep my balance in this wild ride called “Life”.