Mike leaves silently each morning. His alarm vibrates at 5:00 and he is usually out the door by 5:30, padding with socks through the house as he puts on his uniform and opens the fridge to look for the lunch I forgot to make him. I really must remember. I mean to write myself a note, a reminder. Then I forget.
Often, the things I intend to do hide in silence, which is really the problem.
The dog barks loudly from the backyard when she sees strangers walk by. She reserves her most vicious barks for the most nonthreatening strangers: moms pushing strollers and kids on their way home from school. I do not understand this.
Molly is very good at barking like a dog and roaring like a lion. She reads gibberish aloud to herself from cardboard books that all feature the same animals: cow, horse, dog, cat, sheep. She can recreate all of their sounds when prompted. Animal sounds are really her forte, though she often runs to the TV and howls “Geeeeoooooorrrrgggeee.” She has a deep affection for curious monkeys, but I tell the pediatrician she “barely” watches TV. It’s true. Every day I urge myself to make this true.
Each day begins with dog food clanging in a metal bowl. The sound of scratching Velcro on a diaper, over the tops of shoes, again and again, binding and unbinding.
I watch the clock for naptime. I cannot hear the twitching of seconds during the day, only at night when I cannot sleep, and then it is as intrusive as knocking on the door.
All day, I say words and Molly repeats them. She falls down a dozen times, sometimes crying for real and other times crying for show. Right now she has a scrape on her forehead. That time she cried for real.
I’m learning her, watching her, narrating aloud the elements of our day: “Go! Shoes! Car! Can you say hi? Can you say bye? Look! Bird! Airplane! Truck! See it? Blue sky! Blue shirt! Blueberry!” She now knows the word blue. I am proud.
Like a broken record I answer her single burning question. I tell her “Daddy’s at work.”
Three seconds later: “Daddy?”
“Daddy’s at work.” I say. Molly is desperate for real time updates on his whereabouts, like she is his parole officer, like he is a fugitive.
I teach Molly to be human by ricocheting words off of her. She speaks them back in inopportune moments and remains silent when I ask her to put on a show. She doesn’t do tricks on demand. This makes me look like a fool. I think she knows it. Maybe that’s the point.
I am translating reality for her, teaching a new language. Sometimes she listens. Sometimes she echoes. Sometimes she throws shoes at me. Often she takes off her own diaper.
The dishwasher is loud. The washing machine is loud. The air conditioner turns on every half hour with a nasal bellow. Silently, I think “Why is it this hot in September?”
Her toy chest creaks every time it’s opened. Inside is an empty orange juice container filled with dry lentils. She grabs it with both hands and shakes it with conviction. It looks like garbage but it’s actually a homemade maraca. I made it for free. When she plays with it I feel like a winner.
At the sound of splashing water, I panic. It means she is playing in the toilet again.
At the sound of ripping paper, I panic. It means she is tearing pages out of books again. She did this to her own baby book and also the bible. What does it mean?
I turn on music and sing loudly, Molly yells in drawn out vowels. She is trying to sing and I am thrilled. Sometimes I catch her singing to herself while coloring or looking at books “Doo doo doo” she hums. Different notes but always the same syllables.
She dumps the box of Legos and they clatter, a rainbow waterfall.
She pulls on kitchen cabinets, back and forth in quick succession: bang bang bang. They are child locked, just as they were yesterday. What a disappointment. She checks everyday.
We play hide and go seek. She finds me around the corner, shrieks and laughs hysterically every time. “Gen!” she says. “A-gain?” I revise. “Geeeeeeen!!!”
At meal times glass condiments shudder when I open and close the refrigerator door. A plastic fork and plate patter to the ground. Molly shrieks “Oh nooooo!” as if she didn’t mean to throw them, as if gravity is a surprise every time.
Silently, I pick them up. My hips pop. My knees pop. Porcelain grazes countertop as I grab my coffee and put it in the microwave again. Slam goes the door. Beep beep beep. Hum. A coffee resurrection, warmed to life again.
In the silent moments, the stutters before the next question, the next crisis, I evaluate my intentions for the day. I sense that dinner is coming and I am unprepared. I mean to write something. I feel like I’m falling behind. I try to retrieve big thoughts to think about, to pray about, and maybe even write about, but I cannot find them, what was I thinking again? I get frustrated. I check Instagram. Then I realize it’s been quiet too long. I’ve had too many thoughts in a row. Where is Molly? Is she alive? Escaped? Dead?
No, she found a sharpee. She is creating abstract art on the couch.
I suck my breath in. She looks guilty before I speak a word.
In the evening Mike’s arrival is loud, the opposite of invisible because we have been waiting for hours, ears alert. With the first groan of the garage door, Molly and Bailey stand to attention. Molly’s eyes get large. The dog’s tail begins to wag. I breathe a sigh of relief. He is home. It’s the noise we have been listening for all day.
In an hour or two there will be splashing from the bathtub. Molly will line up her rubber ducks on the ledge and practice her counting, “Twooo. Free. Twooo. FIVE!”
We will laugh. We will correct her. Tomorrow I will ricochet numbers off of her again.
We will put her to bed.
And when all the noises have gone to sleep, when all the needs have been met, when all I can hear is the ticking clock, then my mind will hum over the silence, replaying the sounds of the day like a record that spins a familiar song. It is a worship song, a benediction, I realize.
And tomorrow I will sing it all over again.