About 10 minutes ago, I bent down once, twice, three times to pay out hugs to three small people. I stood on my tiptoes to offer a kiss to my husband. He opened the door then and pushed the magic button on his car key that opens the doors of the minivan. The kids -- their backpacks (blue, pink, Star Wars Lego) nearly eclipsing them -- shuffled off to their seats.
"Bye, Mommy!" they called.
"Bye, babe," my husband smiled as he shut the door from the house to the garage.
Click, click, click. Sliding door closed, sliding door closed. Driver's door open, driver's door closed. Automatic garage door up. Ignition on. Van easing down the driveway. Automatic garage door closed.
It's 8:19 a.m. and I am alone in my house for the first time in months.
I head for the kitchen and wrap up the rest of a tomato I'd sliced for sandwiches. I empty the remains of a bowl of Cheerios into the sink and sip my now-cold green tea. I open the window and welcome the crisp breeze, the chirping birds hidden in the trees. I breathe in the babble of the creek that runs next to my house.
All of a sudden, my life has become a spa soundtrack. Bliss.
Until I read Susan Cain's brilliant Quiet, I did not realize just how strongly introverted I am and how much more introverted I have become as I've gotten older. (Indeed, on the quiz that Cain includes in her book, I answered 11.5 of the 12 questions as an introvert would.) I knew that I increasingly thought of cocktail parties as one of Dante's lower circles of Hell. I knew that I almost always preferred communicating in writing to talking on the phone. But I didn't recognize how deeply I valued quiet, how much I needed a daily infusion of silence to stay sane.
The trick, of course, is that I have little kids, now 6, 4 and 2. And they have a drum set. And a giant bin of Legos that they rifle through to find just the right piece. And their job at this moment of their lives is to play and to explore, and making noise is an essential part of that process of discovery. Children are meant to be seen and heard.
As much as it helps to understand that I am an introvert, after reading Cain's book, I knew I needed to find a way to reconcile my need for quiet with the realities of my days. (Those quiet mornings alone at home? Few and far between.) So, the last few years have been an exercise in making my kid-filled life more introversion-friendly. I've traded in teaching for writing. I've bought a white noise machine to keep on my desk to drown out drumbeats and Lego crashing when I'm working and my husband is watching the little ones. I've pursued exercise that's either solitary or quiet or both (running and yoga top the list). I've done my best to plan at least a few minutes alone in every day -- even if they don't come until the kids are asleep and the dishes are done.
And it helps. Knowing what you need and asking for it often does.
I carry my tea mug over to the kitchen island and open my laptop. I reply to a few emails and jot down a list of things to do until preschool pickup at 12:30: edit query letter, work on book review, email client, send invoice. I open up a Word document and start typing, but soon find my index finger creeping toward the mouse pad. It finds the Picasa icon and clicks on it and I smile at the pictures from my son's birthday party this past weekend. I play a video of my children -- joined by their grandfather -- chanting, "We want cake! We want cake!" I turn the volume up a little.
I think I might just miss the noise.
Photo courtesy of Nicole Arnold Photography