Alone, I love silence. When I’m with loved ones, I don’t do well with it at all. I am a person who yearns for connection. I don’t do small talk. I do deep, interested, meaningful conversation. Ask me to chat about property taxes and sales at Macy’s at a barbecue, all the inane filler talk that lubricates daily social interaction, and watch me zone out. My love is narrow and deep. My small circle of people I love madly, completely, to the ends of the Earth, forever. So I talk the same way: with my favorite people, about important or stimulating things, sometimes for hours.
This need to connect deeply with the people dear to me makes sitting together with them in silence a challenge. But motherhood is nothing if not challenging, so the universe saw fit to send me a boy child with a complete inability to talk in the morning.
Here’s how a typical car ride to school goes:
I drop off his sister, then drive back to pick him up (they go to different schools with different start times). I call him on his cell from the driveway (Parenting, 2015 Edition). He ignores my call. I get out of the car and yell up from the front door to his room on the second floor. Although I’ve left him awake before going to drop off his sister, when I call up I can tell he is back in bed, surprised I am summoning him down to go to school. I tell him I’ll wait in the car. After a lapse during which he could have easily helped build several schools in remote African villages, he comes down to the car.
Sits. Puts on his seatbelt in a fog. Stares off into space, eyes unfocused.
I know he’s gotten enough sleep because I’ve policed his bed time. Even if I’ve personally looked in on him every hour on the hour and know for certain he’s gotten twelve hours of sleep, he still always looks like he’s just escaped an all-night interrogation. Bleary-eyed. Exhausted.
Perfect time for a nice heart-to-heart, I think.
“So, Zach, how’s it going?” Although I can see it’s clearly not going, I can’t help but ask.
I try another tack. “So, I read that Steam is now paying for mods.” Steam is a company that makes his favorite video game, and I desperately scour Google News for updates from them so I can be versed in the main thing my son will talk about. I have no idea what “paying for mods” means, although I read the article over three times trying to figure it out.
On his happier mornings, he jokes, “No talking in the car.” It’s a rule he made when I was chattering too much at him one morning. Every time I’d start a sentence, he’d cut me off, “No talking in the car.” We giggled about it the whole 1.2 miles to school. Most mornings are not that lighthearted. He’s just not a morning talker. Even when he’s home, he needs a while for the fog to clear.
For me, it feels excruciating to ride all that way in silence. It’s absolutely foreign to me, this need for silence when in the presence of someone you love. It feels downright bad, cold, hostile. But I know that’s not how he means it. He doesn’t mean it at all… it’s just how he is. And it’s not as if he’s taciturn all the time. In the afternoons, he’s just bursting with boyish sharing – jokes, random facts, interesting things about animals. He talks and listens. He’s sweet and kind. Just not during the mornings.
This morning, I began my usual attempts to get him to converse. I failed, as usual. But unlike other mornings, I only tried until the end of my block. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what it means to love someone as they are, not as you wish they would be. Loving my son means talking about video games. Sometimes, it means not talking at all. I want to give him the gift of accepting who he is.
So I drove in silence. At the halfway point, I had to bite my tongue when the silence got unbearable. But I distracted myself and ran down a list of things I wanted to get done this morning. He seemed to relax at not having to fight off my chatty bonding onslaught.
I’d like to say that there’s some magical happy ending to this story, that my silence gave him the room to start a conversation on his own time. But life’s not like that always. My silence just allowed his silence, which was enough for him. Because, sometimes, the best gift we can give someone is the gift of letting him be exactly as he is.