The Cycle of Noise

It’s funny.  I am the youngest of a brood of four kids.  Born and bred city person.  Complete with row home and city noises in a house without central A/C.  Growing up on this kind of environment kind of indoctrinates you to the cacophony of background noise. For as long as I can remember, our family always had some kind of background noise on.  I can remember the first thing we used to do was put on the good old AM radio station first thing and listen to the morning news and the current pop music of that era.

It was background noise, but it could also be our information lifeline.  I can vividly remember being perched on top of the radiator (because it was wonderfully warm in the mornings) in our kitchen anxiously listening for that announcement that would make my day:  “All Philadelphia Public and Parochial Schools are closed”, which of course meant snow day!  I can recall sitting there eating my instant apple cinnamon oatmeal and only perking up to what was on the radio if a key word or phrase drew my attention.  Don’t remember exactly what would perk my attention when I was a kid, probably the name of a famous tv or movie personality hearing of them passing on or causing kind of a scandal. I know I remember hearing on that radio that Elvis had died.  I’ll never forget I was drawing in my basement with the radio blaring Christmas tunes when I heard John Lennon was shot.  It was a very sad moment, even then as a kid, and I was glued to the radio listening to the details of how such a sad event came to pass.

As I grew into my teenage years, the radio became more important as my tool to listening and enjoying music.  I enjoyed listening to the am pop station my parents liked, but preferred by far the good old rock and roll station and it’s comic jocks of the morning. I can even remember having a little crush on John Dabella, the morning guy, because I almost felt like I knew him personally, sharing every morning I waking with him. No longer was the radio in the background, but in the fore front most times as I was listening to the antics of the morning show and getting a good laugh before I started my day, but also grooving to the rock and roll songs that hit the airwaves.  Who in my era doesn’t remember singing AC/DC’s Back in Black album at the top of their lungs?

Also being a city kid meant trolling around the neighborhood.  And music being so vital to this stage of life, it was not at all uncommon for kids to be toting boom boxes around the neighborhood, some of them were huge with woofers and tweeters and 6 inch speakers better to project the sounds of the throbbing base from our favorite songs. The kids I hung out with weren’t derelicts. Of course there were kids that were, but mostly it was just kids being kids. That’s just we did–walked around from corner to corner trying to figure out where it was safe to hang out, listen to some tunes without being chased away by someone who’s quiet was being imposed upon by our noise. Some of those early teen years were centered around listening to this music and learning all the lyrics that would be the anthems of our youth. I’m sure the kids of today  with their chic little mp3 players would be rolling over with disbelief that their parents lugged around these music makers just to listen to their tunes.

As I ventured into high school and out of my own neighborhood, the radio faded back into the background again.  Most often just the backdrop while we were hanging out and talking about our antics at school or talking about boys.  I still always liked hearing that background noise, even as I was studying.  It often easier for me to study with the hum music surrounding me, at least that’s what I rationalized. I relied on the comfort that the radio provided me. It grounded me because it was such a regular part of my every day life for so long.

I can still remember after my parents dropped me off in my dorm room how I thought I might nearly go insane because it was so quiet.  After spending one quiet evening (my room mate had not yet arrived), I had to run out and buy my own little boom box the very next day, as I felt like my lifeline was missing not having a radio kicking my tunes and bringing me the daily news and weather. And of course, I needed something to help me get me through my homework and studying. It’s funny, I can remember happily listening to my tunes while doing my work, when my roomie came in and flicked on the TV.  I remember being so annoyed as the TV was her go to for comfort and winding down, and nothing but a distraction in the negative for me. I had to leave and bring my faithful walkman with me somewhere else so that I could listen to my noise in peace!

Flash forward to being a mom and raising two little boys full of energy and life. I don’t know how it happened, but at some point I really, really needed to hear the sound of silence to bring me comfort and ground me to a happy place.  It happened quite without me thinking about it.  I can still remember after putting them both down for a nap, just absolutely reveling in the beautiful music of hearing not even a pin drop.  I can remember fighting with my older son well into his fourth year his NEED for a nap, which really was my own desperate need for some silence.  I guess the constant stimulation not just of noise, but being groped on, cried to, puked on, and pooped on just got to be too much. Eventually I figured I also needed him to go to bed before 10 o’clock and begrudgingly gave up my afternoon silence so that I also might get some solitude in the evenings, as I was lucky if he didn’t fall asleep before I did.

Of course, my kids eventually went off to elementary school, and then it was silent all the time. Blissfully silent. My husband also likes background noise, but his version is the TV.  I enjoy watching TV, but not having it on in the background–to me it’s too disruptive and not as passive as listening to tunes. I definitely categorize TV more as noise than enjoyment, unless I’m tuned in specifically to watch it. After about two years of the kids being in school all day, I realized I had missed my music in the background.  I had finally heard enough silence in those couple of years, that I could actually enjoy the sounds of music to keep me company while I pitter away at my every day household tasks.  These days I’m not a radio junkie as much as a Pandora addict.  I love being able to plug in an artist and hear a stream of music that is streamlined to appeal to exactly what you want to hear.  Whomever thought up that concept, was brilliant, and I applaud them every time I flick on my iPod.

So, it’s funny the circle of noise in our lives.  I’m sure everyone has some kind of similar circle in there lives. Sometimes knowing that noise can be a comfort or a hindrance or woven into the very fiber of who they are.


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