Thursday, March 14, 2013

A meditation on silence

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My favorite sounds are ones born from silence. The crunching of snow under my feet, heard only in the absence of a bustling city. The distant sound of the train going by in the wee hours of the night, when it seems like the only person awake is me.

I am an only child. Silence speaks to me. It centers me.

Yesterday started in a frenzy, juggling between showing the new sitter the ropes, getting my big girl ready for preschool, and a conference call that started at about the same time. But it didn’t let up. It continued in that same pace after my toddler fell asleep on my sitter, which I suppose is a good thing as it’s a testament to their budding relationship, but it wasn’t exactly naptime either.

Half an hour on the sitter completely ruined Thumper’s usual, longer, two-hour afternoon naps, which made things more challenging. The thing is, her naptime is when I am afforded the silence I so crave. It’s when I recalibrate my energy so I may keep up with my girls. Without it, by the day’s end, I’m mush.

And I couldn’t afford to be mush that day. I had plans to attend a book reading with a friend in the evening. But you know how it is with kids. The best laid plans are just that - plans. The reality often resides in the opposite spectrum.

However, it did all magically end well. I was still able to take my toddler to her first dance class, where she didn’t behave like the monster I expected her nap-deprived self to be, and I left the girls at home with a dear friend who was their sitter for the night.

Because I knew they were in good hands, I didn’t even look back as I walked outside into the twilight at 7 o’clock, happy to see the remains of the sun at that time of the evening. Spring is near.

Jarred from the day’s excitement that included meeting project deadlines while wrangling kids, I sat among the small audience at a local independent bookstore to listen to Terry Tempest Williams, an author I had recently grown to love and admire. As she started to speak, I slowly found my center again. She read excerpts from her latest book, “When Women Were Birds”, about women and our voices. About being heard. And not heard. About the power of silence. And not being silent.

It made me think about this blog, where I speak my heart and my mind about subjects that are both frivolous and considered taboo by some. Even though these words are meant for my girls, I know I also speak to countless, nameless others out there who choose to remain silent. Maybe because they want to be. Maybe because they’re expected to be. Or perhaps they have to be. 

I also hope that I’m not just speaking to, but speaking for them as well. Because of my own upbringing in a culture that reveres and thus perpetuates silence, secrecy, and taboo, I know what it’s like to have a voice and not be able or allowed to use it.

I was bound to that silence long after I left Malaysia. Then one day, I gave birth, and along with that beautiful baby girl, came my voice.

I am silent no more.

For her sake. For mine.

As a mother of daughters, I want their voices heard. I want these someday women to live the life of their choosing. And the ability to voice against that which threatens to derail them. I saw what it did to my own mother, who suffered a bad marriage because to leave it was taboo, and I vowed to neither follow that path nor lead my own girls there.

At the end of the reading, during the book signing, I mentioned to Ms. Tempest Williams about my blog, about writing for and about my girls, and this is what she wrote inside my book.


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“Your voice, your courage, your stories.”

It took my breath away.

Here, in this space, I give myself permission to live openly. To celebrate love and life, but also to be imperfect. To be human. Divorce, eating disorders, parenting fails, relationship woes –they are not taboo. They are my stories. They are the course I took to get here.

Which is pretty much exactly where I want to be.

As a mother of daughters, I want the same for them. But better, of course.

I am a mother after all.


* * *

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Today is a different day. Today begins from the center.

I take a long, slow stroll in the park by the beach with my little one after we drop her sister off at preschool. She gets on all fours on the sand, saying to me, “I’m cleaning” while she clumsily moves the stick in her hand from side to side, attempting to remove sand from her path. Futile, but amusing.

With a toddler busy at play, I sit on the bench and soak in the glorious sunshine and the delicious silence. Free from the noise of traffic and people, I clearly hear the wistful waves of the lake, and the chorus of birds twittering about the coming of spring. It’s almost here, it’s almost here.

They’re harbingers. They’re also reminders.

They take me back to my evening with Terry Tempest Williams, she herself a lover of birds and nature, and I hear the soft lilt of her voice echoing in my head. Beckoning, calling, waiting.

Then I gather my thoughts as well as my toddler to come home.

And in the silence of my baby’s mid-day slumber, I write these words.