I’m committing to being silent the entire ride home. Either that or I’m listening to classical music. I choose silence.
The radio station changes from my relaxing classical music station to her frenetic top 40 as tween girl jumps into the car, pushes buttons, not just those on the radio dial, and settles into the passenger seat. Shotgun.
I am quiet.
It is a new skill that I am learning, this quiet. It takes great discipline not to open my mouth and moralize about each song. It is challenging not to lecture or ask about how choir rehearsal went or to demand conversation from my third daughter, child six of eight.
She chose silence, announced it in her humorous way, and challenged me to respect her choice. I am respecting. With knuckles white and jaw clenched, I am respecting. A glance out of the corner of my eye reveals a smirk playing across her lips.
I am being played.
I play back with silence.
I haven’t always been comfortable in the quiet. I am still not comfortable. There is a part of me that screams inside and wants to fill the awkward silence.
I remember having that part called out, and I reference it sometimes in conversations with others about learning to be quiet. I was there in the counselor’s office, my husband being asked a question, me finding an answer for him after a few seconds of silence, the counselor addressing my husband as if I am not in the room.
Is she always like this?
It was a calculated question asked at a calculated time by a skilled professional, and it did the intended trick.
“Like WHAT?” I responded, incredulous to being spoken of in the third person, yet curious as to how I was being and what was so wrong with it.
My pattern of feeling discomfort in quiet, of filling in the answers for my husband’s questions, of experiencing unease in unrest was exposed and addressed. Yes, I was quite often, if not always, like that. Work began, which led up to this moment with my eleven year old girl in the car reaping the benefits not afforded her older sister, who was born and raised in our louder, pre-counseling days.
Seven years ago there was another girl, a teen, not tween, who didn’t have the luxury of quiet with me, announced or otherwise. My third child, second daughter, was quiet by nature. We joked that she didn’t need to bother learning to talk, because she could communicate with her eyes.
What was cute as a toddler became unacceptable as a teen, and quiet car rides triggered something inside of me akin to anger. Quiet was no longer cute. It was disrespect. It was unwillingness to communicate. It was shutting down and shutting out. It was painful and uncomfortable.
My desire for connection became a demand for words from her that would not, could not come. My ascribing of motive and fear of what was underneath this lack of communication was heavy and real, and many a quiet car ride became about me and my comfort rather than about my daughter and hers.
Instead of trusting her “nothing’s wrong, I just don’t feel like talking right now” and riding along in the quiet with music, I ran around inside of my head in a panic, demanding that she produce something to assuage my fears. It was a painful season for us both.
I am sad that I did not have the skills to engage the quiet with my older girl like I have grown to learn with my younger. I wish I could have continued to trust her eyes and believe that when she was ready to use spoken words, she would.
Many years of mother-daughter angst would have been spared and much more joy would have been found had I been able to trust the quiet.
I am grateful for grace and for growth, as distance, time, and wise counsel have helped both of us find words to use to connect as adults. It is not as quiet between mother and daughter these days, as texts light up phones, and words fill email messages, and conversations happen in person or over the phone.
In fact, she is one of my encouragers during difficult tween parenting moments that this, too, shall pass. She remembers and reminds me and offers to use some of her words to speak into stressful situations with little sisters. She encourages me to keep using my words and sends messages when she reads something that she loves that I have written.
Above all, she keeps me hopeful that change is a good thing, as I am learning to trust the quiet.
Julie McClay lives in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley with her high school sweetheart (and husband of 24 years) and 5 of their 8 children. She is learning that while it can be painful to face the past honestly while living in the moment and looking towards the future, it can be healing and lead to the hope of a brighter future. She digs through these thoughts and feelings here.