The other night my husband and I were watching an old movie on TV. Apparently we were talking or laughing too loudly (or at least not waiting long enough before our kids fell asleep) because about 10 minutes in my 5-year-old son came out into the hallway and loudly declared that we were "keeping him awake." We chuckled to ourselves, vowed to "keep the noise down" and sent him back to bed. He slept just fine after that and it got me thinking about the noises we hear as kids at night. Those after-we-went-to-bed-but-before-we-were-asleep noises that were sometimes loud, sometimes barely audible, often muffled and from time to time accompanied by other random around-the-house sounds.
For me, those sounds were those of my parents. From up in my bedroom I could hear them talking, sometimes playing music, and moving around from room to room. Those sounds were almost always the last thing I heard before I went to bed.
When my now 9-year-old daughter was just over 1, we went to visit my parents. I remember laying with her as she fell asleep in a bedroom down the hall from the main part of their house. My mother was washing dishes and my father was singing while busying himself with something around the kitchen. I listened to the concurrent sounds of my daughter sleeping and parents humming and chatting as they did when I was a child. So much had changed but for a moment, it was as if nothing had. I imagined my daughter hearing these sounds, or perhaps the sounds we made at home as she dozed off to sleep in her crib. Would there come a point when she would take these sounds in and turn them into memories that she would keep with her as she grew?
I thought about all these sounds, and memories of them, that were strung together in my mind. I thought about this as I sat on my couch, muffling my own voice so as not to wake my own two children. And then, I thought about how eventually there comes a time when there is an absence of sound.
I thought about the times I visited my parents house since my Dad passed away 4 years ago. As I sat there in the evenings, it was largely up to me to fill the void of sound. There was no one else to hold up the other end of my Mom's conversation, to be a musical backdrop to her chores or to create the sound of jingling or clanging that accompanied her words and breaths. The house was half full and those nighttime noises were growing few and far between.
I thought about my parents' house now. My mother has been gone for just over 2 months. The house is still there, but it is empty. And for me, the greatest emptiness is that absence of sound. I imagine the walls and floors as the sun goes down. When the evening hits, there is no loud, no quiet, no muffles and no background. There is just air talking to the air.
Now more than ever, I hold onto the memories of noise. The noise I tried to make out for so many years. What were they talking about? What were they planning? What song was that? What was he doing? What was she moving around? The questions sometimes got answers but mostly sat out there, open-ended to lull me to sleep and carry me through the night.
From the great and heavy absence of a lifetime of sounds comes a chance to fill that void with new words, new music, new laughter and new memories. I can no longer fall asleep to those childhood noises, but I can help a new generation do just that.