Archive for August 17th, 2010

Filling the Silence

In Her Thoughts

When my first son was a toddler, I spent hours of quality time with him.   We built towers out of his alphabet blocks.  We built forts from sheets and the dining room chairs.  We wrestled and giggled and generally enjoyed life.  In the moments I would see him playing quietly on his own, I found it impossible to resist filling the silence.  When my daughter came along, she resisted my efforts at quality time.  She wanted to play on her own.  She invented games out of thin air.  Two lacrosse sticks and my weight bench became a Viking ship.  Two spoons and her booster seat hanging from the seat strap made for a parade through the living room.  Still, I would intercede to fill the silence.  What color is your Viking ship?  Where are you going?  What will you do when you get there?  Sure enough, she would get tired of the questions and move on.

When Zane came along and I was busy running two almost teenagers from one sports field to another, I was so afraid that I would not be able to have quality time with him.  I no longer had the quiet time to spend in making up games and leading his play.  When he was playing quietly, I found myself thankful for a few minutes to sit and write.  But always the guilt would set in.  “Am I not giving him the quality time he needs? Do I need to spend more time talking to him, filling those silent moments?”  I would beat myself up even as I watched him playing happily.  Then one day as I sat writing a new post, I heard him in the other room, singing the alphabet song.  He was a year and a half old and singing to himself.

After that day, I found myself stopping during my writing sessions and listening to his play.  I no longer felt the need to direct his play or fill the silence.  I discovered that he knew when to fill the silence.  Sometimes he will play in complete silence, building towers, driving his cars through elaborate tunnels he has created out of toys, building new train tracks on his Thomas train table.  But then there are the times when I sit in the kitchen at the computer, listening to him sing the Zaney Opera, a narration of his play set to music.  “My car is driving on the window.  Now it is going to fly out the window.  My truck is in the other room.  I am going to play with my truck.”  The tune changes from minute to minute but the narration goes on and I realize, he doesn’t need me for play.  He is in his own world, creating his own games and songs.

Lately, I have expanded this theory to our time together.  We will talk and play and have a good time but when the lull in the conversation happens, I don’t immediately fill the silence.  I wait.  I sit with him and let the silence envelope us.  Sometimes it remains as we push our cars across the carpet or sit cuddled on the couch, but sometimes, Zane breaks the silence giving me a glimpse into his thoughts. “I wish I were a zebra.” He will say.  Where this came from I don’t know but I listen as he talks about the things he knows or thinks he knows about zebras.

The books about parenting are helpful in so many ways.  As a new parent, I found them invaluable but they are not fool proof.  They are not the end all be all on the best way to parent a child.  I have three children and they are each completely different.  They each have different personalities, different styles of play, and different ways of communicating.  Filling the silence for my oldest child was the perfect way to parent him but trying to parent my daughter the same way didn’t work for her. With Zane his personality and our circumstances have changed.  I have learned to be patient and stop filling the silences, letting him fill his play time the way he wants, inviting me in when he chooses and leaving me on the sidelines when he chooses.  After all of these years and all of these kids, I have learned to trust myself and my child as much as I trust the advice in the books.

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