Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
I hate having spending money, a clean and quiet house, freedom to come and go as I please, uninterrupted hot meals, and the ability to sleep late. I think I’ll have children.
We live in a quiet house. It wasn’t always that way; in fact there was a time when we had wall-to-wall bodies that came with loud voices, music, motion and chaos. Then one day it was gone. I’ve never heard silence quite this loud. I can feel it.
My friend Lucy said when her baby turned two she no longer had a baby. I remember how that feels. One day Mommy becomes Mom then “help me” turns into “I can do it myself.” The next thing you know you’re taking them to college and wondering where the years went.
But our children will always be children, no matter how old they are. This is a Universal Truth. As I work at decluttering and downsizing I remember everything from potty-training to proms. I stand in the hallway and hear Crazy Train played on the guitar — over and over again. A fierce game of Halo or the sounds of Tony Hawk drift downstairs. I hear the F-bomb and realize everybody says it now—even our kids.
There was a time when our five children, their friends, assorted pets and unbounded energy filled our home. Some of the evidence is still here. One room has the guitar switch plate on the wall because I can’t take it down. I clean out a drawer and find a notebook with childish drawings of horses filling page after page, the young girl now grown; a gifted artist with a remarkable portfolio. Big things that filled the house are gone too—snowboards, skateboards, tents, sleeping bags—all left with their owners. I kept the doll house for a long, long time, and finally gave it away.
In my quiet house, walking through orderly and clean rooms, I realize the child that had the dollhouse will turn twenty this year.
Five children is a noisy business. Though they are grown, that hasn’t changed. Soon all of them will gather here for the annual pre-Easter horseradish-making ritual. My husband hosts this every year, and its reputation has spread. Our kids bring significant others, friends from college, and friends of friends. When it’s done grown men have cried and 10 pounds of fresh horseradish root become thirty jars of spicy hot horseradish; ready and waiting.
We hear a different kind of noise now—adult noise—that validates our parenting. We put kind, smart, talented people in the world. We made them, we grew them, we are thrilled to see them doing well on the paths they have chosen. The price for their success (and ours) is a quiet house.
As the horseradish making commences I hear grown up voices using words and well-articulated sentences and even the F-bomb, because some things don’t change. Endless commentary and a diversity of political opinions fill the air. There is loud praise for the kielbasa and sausages as they sample the results of their labor. When everyone has a plate and the fire pit is going I enjoy the noise and remember when they were little and I was in control. Except not.
I don’t think I was ever in control. I was a good disciplinarian but there’s a difference. I once overheard a child say “You can only have one cool parent, the other one has to be the bad ass.” You have no idea how hard it was not to ask. I so wanted to be the cool parent, and as long as it was never confirmed I had hope. Now that they are grown I realize a cool parent is probably not a good parent.
Raising kids is a very hard job and as you often hear, they don’t come with a user’s manual. Five kids have five different personalities and while you love them equally you must parent to the personality. Sometimes parenting is more about questions than answers and we made it up as we went along. Maybe. We admit nothing.
Our children have grown into fine men and women but on the way to their adulthood my hair turned gray. I tell them they did it. You are never too old to play the guilt card.
Keep the Noise Down
I grew up in a large family. We were loud too, my Mom constantly telling us to keep the noise down. My parents came with military discipline and high expectations. My Dad had a finite amount of patience, i.e. not a lot, and made us figure things out for ourselves. If we were arguing over the last cookie or a TV channel he would say, “You have 30 seconds to work this out, then I’m going to decide for you.” We knew what that meant—he would eat the cookie and the TV would be turned off. We learned to work for the greater good.
I applied similar logic with our kids and it worked, but we never found a way to keep the noise down. I’m not sure we tried. A house full of quiet kids is a bad omen. Sometimes there was arguing, but mostly it was good noise made by kids being kids. I miss it. I miss them.
I wouldn’t change any of our children, but I want the world to change for our children and their children. It is more dangerous now and I want to protect them just as I did when they were little. But parenting is finding the balance between holding on and letting go and our quiet house is the bittersweet reminder that we did it right.
Our greatest contribution to the world will not be something we said or did, but someone we raised.