Friday, July 20, 2012

Sounds of silence in my head

From today's Briefing:

It’s a blessing and a curse that I’ve got a constant countdown ticker in my head.
Vacation begins in 13 days. That’s less than two weeks to get ahead on work projects, create a checklist, gather everything on the checklist, pack — all worth it for a blissful week mostly free of responsibility.
School begins in 37 days. That means I’ve spent about 50 days in denial about how to prepare for a son going to middle school. I can no longer ignore questions such as:
Will Cooper ride the bus to and from school? Or should we arrange some sort of elaborate carpool system that minimizes middle school bus drama?
Will he be able to balance a tougher course load and his extracurricular commitments? Or do we need to consider dropping something?
Will I hire, as strongly recommended, a private tutor for clarinet, adding even more to the monthly cost of being in band? Or can he just rely on classroom instruction?
While Cooper heads to a new campus for the first time in six years, Katie will begin Year 3 at our neighborhood elementary school. After seven weeks of summer la-la land, it’s time to start gathering a new lunchbox, tennis shoes that fit and a first-day-of-school outfit that won’t suffocate her in 100-degree heat.
That should be enough thinking ahead. But I can’t turn the ticker off.
I’m plotting Girl Scout meetings and PTA events. Orthodontia appointments and Thanksgiving break.
I’ve had plenty of time — too much time? — to think this week. For the first time in more than a decade, I’ve been home, all alone, for days at a time.
Cooper has been at camp in East Texas. Katie has spent the week with her grandparents. And I’ve rediscovered life without children in the house.
Most nights have included dinner out with friends, followed by eerie silence and unusually clean living areas at home.
My morning routine is truncated. I get to sleep in a few minutes later, as I’m not preparing elaborate breakfasts or prodding children to get dressed, brush their teeth, stop arguing, make beds, put on shoes, get in the car.
On paper, especially after 50 days of no school, it sounds kind of amazing. In reality, it’s too still, too empty.
And it gets me thinking of another countdown — to the days when my children will have grown up and moved out.
While my friend Jen watched her son pack his trunk for this week’s camp, she had a moment of panic. She flashed forward seven years, when that child will be packing for his first year of college.
So now my countdown timer has two new settings — seven years before Cooper leaves for college, 11 for Katie.
I’d like to imagine that I will spend these next few years solely living in the moment. But I know myself better.
I’m likely to fret over details related to school, child care, vacations, appointments, practices, meetings, exams, applications and issues related to teen years that I can’t even predict. I’m learning to accept that that’s just who I am.
And just as important, I’m learning to turn off — or at least try to turn off — the planning and countdown mode to make room for enjoy-it-while-it-lasts mode.
That means appreciating the silence when it comes without worrying about too much solitude later. And appreciating the chaos when it surrounds me without wishing it away.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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