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Living in the Squirrel Cage

I love my children, I really do, but there are days when the constant squeaky noises make me want to just set them loose at Chuck E. Cheese’s and not look back as I drive away, hoping they grow into successful adults among the blinky lights and a diet of pizza.

I think the single biggest difference between typical households with kids and ones without, is the noise level.  It’s tempting to say the mess, or the amount of mac and cheese in the cupboard, or even how often cartoons are on, but I know plenty of adults without kids where all that is true.  But if adults without kids want quiet, they can usually find it.  There is no quiet to be found in my house.  Not behind any door or around some corner or out in the car.  The constant little voices follow me in a way that makes me think about the plight of schizophrenics.  Except if I try to block out the little voices I’m being irresponsible because I have to pay just enough attention to be aware if something is wrong.

There are a lot of things about parenting without a partner around that are difficult, but the most insidious is to not get a break from the noise.  It grates on me, and there are days I deal with it better than others, but lately I just want to wrap my head in my arms and scream.  Instead I smile and remind them I’m going crazy and they really need to be quiet.  But they can’t.  They THINK they are being quiet.  They hum and tap and for some reason they all squeak.  There is a ton of pretend play in our house all the time, and most of the imaginary characters they create all have high pitched squeaky voices.  It makes me nuts.

My least favorite games of my kids are the ones where the characters they are acting out are fighting or acting mean.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve shouted up the stairs to break up what sounds like a problem, only to have them all say innocently, “We’re just playing!”  I tell them regularly to play something nicer, because I can’t tell the difference between the play crying and the real thing.  Fabulous if they want to win an Oscar one day, but not so great for my nerves right now.

They’re not trying to drive me crazy.   They want to help, but they are wired to keep making noise just for the sake of making noise for some reason.  I lost it the other day in the kitchen on our way out the door because the jibber-jabber-squeak-a-thon had been non-stop over a four day weekend and I couldn’t think straight anymore.  I waved my arms and said loudly and hysterically that they needed to not sing/whistle/clap/stomp/chatter/squeak/squeal/laugh/cry/whine for just five minutes.  They walked silently to the car, buckled themselves in, and sat in complete silence as I backed the minivan out of the garage.  By then the quiet was starting to freak me out a little and I told them singing was okay, and they cheered and started right in on a song about the sun they all like.

That’s the true irony of the noise problem.  As much as I crave a little quiet, the minute they stop making noise it’s unnatural and eerie.  It either means they are doing something they know they shouldn’t, or they are dead, so I can’t enjoy the quiet.  I have to investigate and usually start the noise going again.  It reminds me of driving a kid with croup to the emergency room in the middle of the night.  I had to do that once with each of my kids as babies, and the only thing more awful than suffering through each tortured breath from the backseat on those drives in the dark was the quiet between each breath.  I met each wheezy new breath with a mixture of relief and concern anew.  (Makes for an impossibly long drive.)

Aden asked one time why every once in awhile I want them to be quiet.   I sighed and tried to explain that it didn’t have anything to do with them doing anything wrong, but that all the noise makes it hard for me to think, and I have many things I’m supposed to think about.  I told her sometimes in the car in particular when they are all being squeaky and restless that it feels like I’m in a squirrel cage.  Aden laughed at that image and was so entertained by whatever cute squirrels she had conjured in her mind that I think she missed the main point, but that’s okay.  I remind myself when I want to flee the noise that there will come a day when they grow up and move on where the silence will be deafening and I will miss the squeakiness.  (Yeah, I tried to believe that last line as I wrote it, but no, I won’t miss the squirrel cage.  Noise is easy to find, and if I want to feel nostalgic about the squeaky sounds I can pull out the home movies.)

(Ian took this picture of us in a hotel in The Dells about a year ago.  I couldn’t find any photos that looked squeaky, but in this one they are at least squeaky clean.)

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