Thoughts on Writing, Children and the Importance of Noise

Ours are of the noisy variety. Even now as I type these words the TV in one room blares and an Air-Soft gun battle rages in the backyard. No one is watching that TV, by the way. It’s just bright noise reminding us all that ours is not a quiet household. Nor is it particularly tidy. In the bathtub a flotilla of headless Barbies has jambed the drain and this is a source of endless and loud delight to at least half a dozen neighborhood kids anytime one of them barrels down the hallway to use the bathroom. The noise I have accepted. Our kids can’t breath without doing it loudly. It’s just their way. One night after they’d been tucked into bed at their end of the house, my husband and I lay in our bed at the other end of the house. Through closed doors we could hear them whispering. Even their whispers are loud and we could distincly hear what they were saying.

„When you and me grow up, we’ll be roommates,” one of the boys rasped. „We’ll get four really big dogs.”
„Yeah,” said his younger brother, „and a set of drums.”
Beside me my husband groaned, „Oh, dear Lord, please . . no.”

But I’m not sure that I would want to change the noise, the bustling, the general chaos. Somehow it seems to work for us: the suitcase races through the hallway, early morning serenades to the theme song of Sponge Bob Square Pants. It’s who and how the children are right now and I’ve learned how to work with and expect the noise. In fact I volunteer now more than ever at their school simply so that I can hear what third, fourth and fifth graders have to say. And I’m never disappointed.
A few months ago it was my turn to drive a full carload of fifth grade boys back to their school after a long field trip and I noticed that three of the boys had started up a game called Raining Hammers and Falling Fists. It’s a physical game that involves two boys pummelling another boy until that boy calls time out, or better yet, begs for mercy. I turned to one of the fifth graders sitting behind me and asked: „When do boys get mean?”

A grin slowly spread across his face: „The fourth grade!” As if, duh, Mrs Ochsner, it’s written the school manual.
The substance of his reply didn’t surprise me as much as his absolute willlingness to entertain my quesion. I sensed, too, that he was surprised to learn that an adult could forget a certain „truth” of adolescence that had been hard-earned and seemingly branded into his understanding.
Still, I’m grateful anytime the boys will take me into their confidence, no matter how brief the encounter or seemingly insignificant the information It is a glimipse into a world I have, for the most part forgotten. Its as if they’ve handed me a kaleidoscope and with a few corrective words, a few clicks of the ring, the colored pieces tumble and collide into a vivd clarity. Then I see the world of adults as they might, as I seemed to have remembered it as a child: utterly foreign and futile, repetitive and incomprehenisble, pompouse and strange. From this realm of stinging clarity with their intuitive ability to apprehend a thing for what it is at its essential core minus the rhetoric of power or manipulation, children possess an uncanny wisdom.

For starters, the kids have shown me that they understand intuitively that people are more important than projects. The other day my son, who is thirteen and has skated cleanly into the realm of utter Cooldom was sitting next to me as we drove home from school. It was raining and the windshield wipers shushed and squeaked. I asked him about his day.
He turned to me and said. “Mom, I told my English teacher that you were a writer and she wanted to know if you were very famous or not. Are you?
“She wanted to know if you’re famous like Stephen King or J.K. Rawlings.”
“I’m sorry, Sugar, I’m not.”
“Has anybody heard of you?”
“Probably not.”
The car grew quiet and as the wipers hummed and swished and I could see that he was thinking, really thinking. He knit his eyebrows together and pushed his jaw out. “Well, that’s OK. I fly pretty low under the radar, too.”
I really wanted to throw an arm around his neck and give him a sideways hug, but as there was a car full of cute girls in the lane next to us, I knew better. And I marveled at his wisdom which, I am ashamed to admit, I had not allowed in him. He understood that the measure of our worth is not in what we produce or how the rest of the world receives it. It’s not about earning the gold stars.