OPINION: I never understood the phrase “I can’t hear myself think” until I had kids. Now, I get it.
I’m a parent, which means I have kids. And not pets, like some folks call “their children” — no shade — but kids who I must actively usher into adulthood, actively trying to make them good humans who are kind, compassionate, hygienic and functional but most importantly, won’t embarrass me, my staff, record label or crew with their antics. Essentially, I’m just hoping my kids’ faces never flash across the television screen or your phones in some alert for anything other than their association with some amazing something or other.
That’s down the line, so let’s talk about that Luther Vandross, that here and now. (You like that, don’t you? Me too.) Anyway, right now, I have four kids ranging in ages from 1 to 12. I’d like to focus on the three boys, who are aged 6, 5 and 1. To call my home loud would be an understatement. Any waking moments in which the whole brood’s gathered is a competition for who can be the loudest. My wife likes to pretend that it doesn’t get to her — she read something about gentle parenting, and OK, alright, uh-hunh, shut up — but the words, “Why is it so loud in here?” are daily utterances at 2300 Jackson Street.
For the record, we do not live at 2300 Jackson Street — in Gary, Indiana or any city — but I don’t really know most of you, so I’d rather not share my address on the off chance that one of you is bonkers AF and shows up.
Kids are loud, fam. Like generally, kids have no real sense of their personal volume. My children both love to get in one another’s faces to ensure that they might hear one another, but they also like to share information at the highest possible volume they can muster. You’d think one would negate the need for the other, but nope. Because kids. Kids like volume. Kids eat, sleep and drink volume. One of my kids might think he’s a dinosaur — I haven’t actually asked — but most mornings, he opens up the day with a few loud, solid growls and roars. Admittedly, they are good roars; on a typical day, I’d give him a nine for execution and accuracy.
That’s the 6-year-old. The 5-year-old has been loud since he showed up. At the hospital, the nurses plugged him up with pacifiers before we could tell them if we wanted to go that route or not; we all agreed it was for the best. He’s been on 10 since.
As for the baby — whew, chile, things are gonna get easier — buddy is not about that inconvenienced life. Now, he’s a true bundle of joy. He smiles frequently, dumps juice on the floor and throws his food when he’s trying to signal he’s done instead of any of the sign language my wife is trying to share with him. You know, 1-year-old stuff. He walks like an Easy Spirit model and climbs up and down all manner of things that might end his life. But the minute he feels like he’s been done dirty, the volume meter goes to arena levels. For instance, we have baby gates on each floor of my house; for context, my house has three levels. It has gotten to the point that he hates the sound of the closing gate because he knows it means his freedom has been compromised. Mind you, he really doesn’t have anywhere to be, but he knows that wherever he might have gone is now out of the question. At that point, his little compact body summons the yells of everybody who has ever regretted getting on a rollercoaster. It’s sincere. I’m not proud of this, but we actually try to sneak through the gates in the house to avoid the volume.
There are always basketballs bouncing, iPads on max volume, arguments about BeyBlades or Ultimate Arcade Warriors, laughs from discovering some new way to damage something we’ve owned for years. It’s a veritable cornucopia of options for maximum volume. Shoot, you’d think my children were grown men the way they sound when they are running around upstairs while we sit on the couch. It’s actually a little disconcerting — like, should my floors be transferring this much sound? I’m praying that it never happens, but if my kids came crashing through the floor, would I be completely surprised? Eh, no. I mean, they have bunk beds in their room, and I think you know where this is going — every now and then, I hear what sounds like a boulder being dropped on the floor, but it’s really just my kids trying to see how far they can make it from the top bunk — their heads really do get too close to the ceiling. For the record, I stopped this activity.
Now, it’s not to say that my house is never quiet. For instance, my kids who can go to school are in school, so it’s pretty quiet then. And there’s aftercare, so during the week, now that the kids are all back in school, despite Omarion’s best efforts, there is some quiet. And they do sleep at night. From like 9 p.m. until 6-7 a.m., there is quietness, which is wonderful, Books get read, television with profanity gets watched, dishes get done. And honestly, you almost forget the potential for loudness during that time, only to be reminded every morning when the kids wake up, each vying to make sure their voices are heard and not silenced. Really, they’re tiny activists already.
I love being a parent. Sure, I might spend a lot of time trying to hear myself think, but there’s an innate joy in looking at the tiny-to-mid-sized people who will carry on your legacy. Like, I wonder if my ancestors in rural Alabama could envision their descendants as I’ve helped to create them. I think about stuff like that. Granted, I typically only do that between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., but I do think about it sometimes.
The point is to be a parent, especially of multiple children, means that you will live in a space of maximum volume for a lot of time. It’s why parents scramble during the summer to find things for the kids to do. Sure, we want our kids to be well-rounded, but let’s be real; parents love quiet time, too.
Right now, two of my kids are in virtual school — thanks, Omarion — literally in front of me as I write this. One is singing “Joyeux Anniversaire” at the top of his lungs, while the other is trying to play a math game with his friend over Zoom. They’re both yelling at nobody in particular yet everybody, too. And I’m here to tell you about it.
Holla if you hear me.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).
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