This is the world’s quietest room. Researchers at the Orfield Laboratory in Minneapolis, MN claim that as little as 30 minutes in the anechoic chamber can cause psychosis and hallucinations. In fact, the longest anyone has remained in the room is 45 minutes (source)
When I first saw this story, my reaction was to laugh. Obviously the people touring this room didn’t have small children at home. Give me a completely silent room over screaming, whining, farting, crying, and nagging any day. It sounded like my version of heaven. I asked my husband what he thought, but I couldn’t hear his response because my three year old was reciting the planets in order starting with the sun, repeatedly, as loudly as he could, from 18 inches away. Didn’t we used to encourage him to talk? What were we thinking?
I haven’t known true silence in years. Even when the kids are asleep, I have the baby monitor broadcasting white noise from their bedrooms all night long. I’ve gotten used to it. Without the white noise seeping into my brain all night long, I’d be forced to listen to the cacophony of snoring coming from my husband and two dogs in the room with me. There is no such thing as silence in my house.
Or so I thought.
Last weekend my mom invited the three year old for his first sleep over at her house. He was ecstatic. I think I was more excited. I love my babies, but the notion of a morning without Thomas the Train was just too delicious to resist. We packed his bags and sent him over the river and through the woods, or the five miles down the road, to grandmother’s house. Sweet freedom.
We put the baby to bed early, and had a late dinner. A late dinner for us is anything after our usual 5:00pm. In case you didn’t know, having children is a bit like living in a retirement community. They’re up with the sun, telling you stories that make dubious sense at best, eat dinner before most people finish working for the day, and are in bed before sunset. If you’ve ever heard that having children ages you, now you know why.
By 7:00pm we were staring at each other from across the sofa. What do we do now? The three year old is usually reading stories and having his bath about now. The good tv hadn’t even started yet.
I wandered up the stairs aimlessly. I checked on the baby. He was fast asleep. As I quietly closed the door to the baby’s room, I noticed how odd it felt that the three year old’s door was ajar. He likes the door shut at night. Suddenly it hit me that he was far away that night. We have spent nights away from him before when we were traveling, but this was the first night I’d ever seen his room empty.
I went into his room and laid on his bed. His noise machine had been switched off in his absence. I’m not sure why. It runs all day, every day, but for some reason it seemed right to turn it off when he wasn’t home. It was eerily quiet in his room. The little stars and planets on his ceiling were glowing green.
As I lay in his cold, empty bed, I thought about the night he was born. It had been quiet that evening too, as I lay in my bed, timing the contractions. Our little house was dark. There were no babies crying, no monitors blaring, no toys singing randomly when you walk by. It was still, except for the sound of the rain.
I can’t explain it, but I was overcome with sadness remembering life before my children were born. Maybe that is what tortures the people touring the anechoic room into hallucinations. True silence is empty. It is empty of the laughter of the one’s we love and the tears of the one’s who rely on us for comfort. It is nothingness, a meaningless void, and it is lonely.
I have to admit, I didn’t make it anywhere close to 45 minutes before I had to flee the disturbing silence of my son’s room. I was grateful for the break from his incessant questions, but I realized just how much I love hearing his little voice calling for us in the mornings. I love the way he always answers the same way when I ask him how he slept, “very very very well!” Even when I know it isn’t true. I love the way he laughs every time he farts or belches out loud. Those are the sounds of my life. Without them, I can’t remember who I am.
Sometime all too soon, my house will be once again empty except for the sound of the rain. My children will grow up, as children do, and they will no longer creep into my room in the middle of the night just to say they love me. They will move out and start families of their own to fill their houses. My husband and I will be left alone in the quiet, our ears still ringing from more than 20 years of children.
I will try and remember this the next time my three year old is yelling about how he needs me to fix a sticker that he’s torn, the baby is crying because he wants to eat said sticker, the dogs are barking, and I can no longer hear myself think. These are the sounds of my life. And believe it or not, I will miss them when they’re gone.
On second thought, I don’t think I’d like that quiet room after all.
This post was written in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge. This week’s topic was: The Sound of Silence. Read the full post here.