Getting UNquiet


Multiple times a day, mostly at the president, sometimes at my kids and my husband, the dog, with his floppy ears like messed up pigtails. I want to yell for the injustices that aren't being tended to and to which I feel helpless to do anything about in my one little body. I want to yell out of fear, the way pigs scream at a specific ear-shattering pitch when they are scared. I want to yell out of exhaustion, at the hamster-wheel-feel of many of these long days. I want to yell at myself for having that second beer before bed last night that has me feeling groggy and blec this morning. I want to yell for all the teachers out there who are juggling the world on their shoulders by teaching online school from home and for the parents at home who are trying to keep it together because the line between work and home and school is no longer existant.

There is a lot to yell about.

I'm not a yeller, though, and I don't aspire to be. I have to be pushed and pinned into a tight corner to yell at my kids. I am a recovering Quiet Girl. Quiet=safe, safe=quiet is still something I'm UNlearning. And though I may have a voice on this computer screen and on paper, I still rarely hear the pitch and volume of my own audio voice shine—blaze, bellow—through in anything more than a composed, talking tone.


Back in January, I saw a new therapist for the first time. We quickly launched into discussing a recent moment in my life where I was unable to speak up with someone in my family. Just couldn't do it, and it wouldn't have helped if I could. My therapist asked me, what would you have said? I told her I wouldn't have said anything, it would be something more primal. The roar of a lion. I would roar like a lion and the person sitting across from me's hair and face would blow in the wind of my power like a cartoon. 


She said, want to try?


I considered for a moment. I had just met this woman, but appreciated her allowing, safe energy. We were in a public building and this particular suite was shared with a handful of other therapist's offices. I knew we were not alone because there were more than a few people also in the waiting room with me when I arrived. These walls were not sound-proof. 


But fuck it, I thought. And I let it rip. 

The most unfamiliar, deep-gunk of a wail came out of me. It was long and thick and chest-echoing. Afterwards, as I sat there in the strange vacuum of non-sound, I was blissfully empty. 


I felt the impact of that roar for weeks. Everything about my mind was less dusty, healthy thoughts were plainly more available, love and warmth more automatic. Bad habits less gripping. In that one fell swoop, I had shed old skin, coughed up dated trashy, wordless beliefs. 

It was the caliber of Noise that shakes the countless hidden starlings from the branches and forces them soaring upward and sideways into the tousled, inky dance they were meant to be doing in the first place. And it was in me all along.


A typical COVID-reality day holds quite a bit of frustrated yelling, mostly from the kids. Even as I type, I can hear Ruth upstairs yelling I JUST WANT SPACE!!!! AAAHHHH!!!! Jesse and I try to keep our respective heads on straight, if possible, at least most of the time. 

Until we don't. This is a time that calls for composure sometimes, but certainly also every other level of volume and form of expression we can muster. This is the time to be creative about different ways to roar in space, grand and tiny, and to offer my girls plenty of opportunities to hear their own voices in the air around them LOUD AND CLEAR.

"The strongest nervous system in the room always wins," is one of our favorite go-to quotes from our beloved therapist, Joe. This is just to say that we don't want our four-year-old, with her varying degrees of untamed emotions, to be the energy we are all trying to match at any particular moment. Goodness no. 

However, having said that, holding our composure in the face of the world's current insanity without having proper outlets is toxic. On those days, I wind up wanting to numb the feelings with a strong end-of-the-day buzz. I wind up exploding sideways or grinding so much it hurts to chew my food and I get debilitating headaches. 

It simply doesn't work to try and control the swirling muck and chaos that is shuffling around every one of us in some way right now. Nor does it work for everyone in a household to walk around screaming their heads off all day and all night. What I'm brainstorming here are creative ways to tap the lid of the pressure cooker throughout the day for all of us, how to sneak more sanity into our daily routine—like more water, more breathing, more nature, more gentleness, MORE GOOD NOISE. 


We are all so encased right now, enclosed. Even Opal just said, "Wow, my room is so many things now. It's my office for school, it's my place to relax, to sleep, to do crafts alone or to go with my iPad if I want space. That's hard." School started this week, online only, and Opal is at her computer from 8:30-2:30pm every day. She has breaks and her teacher is totally awesome, but this is not Real School. Real School has kids moving around between subjects, and school has recess for the kids to MAKE NOISE. Kids, like adults, can only take in so much before they need to BLOW OFF STEAM. And I say that as a parent with a child who is thriving with online school. (Can we all just take a minute to imagine what it would be like if Ruth were the one expected to sit still at a computer? I shudder at the thought.) 

But Opal is human, and when she does not make her version of noise—her version is loud MOVEMENT, bouncing high on the trampoline, riding her bike, going for tough hikes with her dad—her anxieties will turn inward and eat away at her. 

And then there is Ruth. Like so many, she is wired to be free-range, loud, filling the space. There is nothing in me that wants to squelch that. This is not to say we encourage her to be dis-regulated and hysterical all the time, she still needs to learn sit still(ish) at the table and to respect the people in the environment. But at the core, I want her to feel she has plenty of places to let er' rip.

Opal is in school now, as I mentioned, along with Jesse who is still working from home. Both of them have their room/office upstairs at the end of the hall. So we are re-training Ruth to stay away from that end of the hall, (where the upstairs bathroom is), and to use her inside voice and, sshh, Ruth, honey, come this way, nope, Sissy's at school and daddy's on a call. She was born with her volume knob on 12—I thought she had hearing issues for some time but it turns out she's just loud and ignores us half the time—so she simply must feel like a wild creature in a cage most of the time.

It's vital for there to be a consistent place and time where what she hears from me/us is: LOUDER, RUTHY! YES!!! GO!!! 

I find myself searching for opportunities in any place I can—in the smaller, passing moments that pepper the day, in addition to the big-ticket sprinkler and trampoline items. While in the car on the freeway with the windows down, we yell, AAAHH!!! While on a walk with Elvis, we run to the far tree across the field and back, hollering the entire way. She belts I AM MOANA at the top of her lungs, solo in the bath if Jesse's not working. Or if he is, we run downstairs, giggling, trying to get to her room before that part of the song comes on, and we scream together for one tiny, blasting, braided moment of perfect NOISE.
When Ruth and Jesse are playing, she always wants to play 'Dino,' where Jesse is the big scary, growling Dino and she runs away screaming, then gets 'caught,' pauses for a breath, then runs away screaming again. It's a thunderous and physical game, but the wisdom is her choice is blatantly clear. She is seeking ways to off-gas, to have permission to be BIG and CRAZY in the space. 


Last week, we took it up another notch with the sprinkler. Us three girls got suited up in suits and water-happy shoes to avoid the prickles in the grass (sorry, Jesse, who had to work) and we brought all our feels into the lawn and went after it. ONE, TWO, THREE, GO!!! I'm not exaggerating when I say we spent the better part of an hour yelling, hollering, whooping, roaring. Throw in the trampoline, also getting pelted by the freeze-water of the sprinkler, and it was the most real-deal, unbridled playtime expression we've had in a while. 

By the time we were done, the day was making it's soft slope down to evening and dinner and I noticed I was not feeling my shoulders next to my ears, I was not feeling the ever-present hypertonic twitch in my masseter muscle. I wasn't even thinking about when I could crack my first beer, which is a thought that often starts for me just after lunch. 

But beyond just myself, something magical happens with the three of us when we let loose in this way together. We have the feel of relaxed, cohesive beings moving fluidly through space instead of constantly bumping into each other's edges and then taking it personally. I have seen again and again how well this works as a sort of preventive medicine. The girls get along better when they have time to connect through play, definitely. But when you add the element of noise, and physical exhaustion, they bond. We all do.

It's not rocket science, but another compelling layer to it all. And one that may be easy to lose track of if not considered a matter of health.


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