standing still

At about 19 weeks, human fetuses begin to hear from inside the womb. The first sounds they likely register are the gurgling of their mother’s stomach and the steady drumming of her heart. Her voice will be a sound they recognize and respond to before ever seeing her face. In other words, by 19 weeks, it will never be quiet again.

The value of silence is something I am trying to teach my son to appreciate as he grows. Because the world is a noisy place. It seems that every inch of available concrete is increasingly being used to prime us to open our wallets. Billboards scream at us from across the highway. Our phones nudge us for attention with chronic push notifications. Even my nearest gas station recently installed television screens on its pumps that blast advertisements 24 hours a day – even if no one is around to hear them. I find this disturbing.

The other day as I took refuge in my car from gas station TV, I recalled running errands with my mom as a kid. I remembered the sudden quiet when she’d park and cut the engine. How the radio stalled mid-song and the world outside seemed to operate as if on mute. I can still remember happily sitting in the cocoon of the car in the parking lot of Market Basket while my mom returned the shopping cart. I remember curling into the pocket of sunshine warming the backseat and just watching the world walk by.

That’s what I want for my son. Moments of quiet observation. Moments where he just has to sit and wonder without some device yelling at him. I want him to understand the importance of standing still.

So I started a new tradition this week. I pulled out our copy of A Field Guide to Western Birds and started birding with Gabe in our backyard. Truthfully I can’t say that he understands the point, but he seems to enjoy being plopped in the middle of the grass every afternoon. We sit on a blanket and I listen for birds while Gabe pulls at the blades of green at his feet. Sometimes the cat emerges from a bush and circles the blanket before returning to his hideaway in the garden.

It isn’t long before the chatter of birdsong begins. Within a few minutes a robin will perch in one of our cherry trees and a hummingbird will zip through the yard. While I’m certain Gabe rarely sees any of the birds I point out, he knows to listen for their call. He pauses from playing with the grass and looks to the sky. His eyes widen and he waits. And for now, for me, that is enough.

Dear Gabriel,

Every night before bed I hold you and whisper a prayer into the space between your neck and mine. Sometimes it’s just the standard Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes I make up one of my own. Deep down I suspect that these prayers are not really for you. They are for me. I think I am really just praying to be better tomorrow than I was today. For you. And for the world I have brought you into.

Every day I watch you play on a colorful mat with whimsical drawings of turquoise elephants in a place where palm trees are pink and the sun actually smiles back. I watch as you furrow your brow as your try to make sense of the world at your feet. Why does everything you throw ultimately, and always, fall back down? What does the color red taste like? Does everything make a sound?

You do. These days you are testing your little voice. I think that is what is most profound for me to absorb. You have a voice and you are learning how to use it.

Your voice can be loud. You emphatically tell me that you do not like it when I use the blender. Your voice can convey excitement. Nothing seems to delight you more than when the cat comes almost near enough for you to touch. Your voice can be gentle. After we nurse, and right before I lay you down for the night, you stand on my legs and coo into the darkness. In those moments it becomes clear to me that you feel safe. I pray that this is always so.

My job as your mother is constantly changing. In the beginning my mandate was simple: Keep you alive.

Six months later my role has already expanded. I am supposed to create a space where you feel loved enough and secure enough to explore it without me. Because you seem to smile biggest when you are showing me the things you can do all by yourself. Like directing a spoon into your mouth. And banging plastic cups together so that they create a noise. (I am certain that there will be times ahead when I wish you wouldn’t.)

These days I find myself silently adding to the list of things I pray for you. Perhaps one day I will share them all. Perhaps one day I will share both my hopes and my fears with you. But right now, all you need to know is that you are loved, that you are safe, and that you have a voice.

Love,
Mom