The Thirty-Ninth Letter: Why I Need the Quiet


Dear Daughters,

Yesterday, I was playing in my room with the littlest, who was pretending to “beep” (that is, “sleep”), and I noticed that the eldest was being very quiet in the living room.

Everything okay, Bean? I asked, from my room. “Yeah,” she hollered back.

It was still very quiet. I followed up. Whatcha doin’ out there, sweetie?

“Just looking out the window,” she said.

Just looking out the window.

When I was young, my stepmom sometimes came into my room in the morning before school and she’d find me sitting on my bed, seemingly doing nothing. When she asked what I was up to, I’d say, “Just thinking.”

Just thinking.

Just looking out the window.

When your dad and I first got married, it would drive him a little bit batty if he was sitting and reading in a room–your dad is often reading, as you know, even when flossing and brushing his teeth–and I came and sat down and didn’t pick up a book. I would just sit there, because I was thinking. He would put his book down, and wait for me to start talking, assuming there was conversation to be had. I just wanted to sit.

I told him I’d be happy to pick up a book and pretend to read if he wanted me to, but I was not going to be actually reading.

Now, eleven years later, he is in the habit of pausing in his reading to ask me whether I’m waiting to have a conversation with him, and if I say, no, then he goes back to his book and tries to not let it bother him.

I am someone who really likes to sit and be quiet.

While it has always been true, I didn’t realize just how much this is the case until I had children.

Just after the eldest was born, my friend Mary Lou confessed to me how difficult is was for her after her girls were born because of being an introvert. Once you have kids–especially when they are young and still breastfeeding–none of your life belongs to you anymore. Your body doesn’t belong to you. Your preference for sleep patterns doesn’t belong to you. You aren’t able to make space or time for any of that alone-quiet-peace introverts crave.

I’ve never really considered myself an introvert, nor would most people who see me lead small groups or read my words publicly, so the way I interact with the world–and the way the world interacts with me–has always confused me a bit.

I’m not good at multi-tasking, and prefer instead to devote all of my energy to one task, without background noise. I’m easily distracted if too much is going on because I can’t focus on anything. I don’t typically notice when a CD in the car begins to repeat because I’m not listening to it. I’m driving or I’m thinking. That’s it.

I am slow and careful and sensitive and thoughtful, but if there are distractions to be had, I get flustered easily.

Which means that as a mom, I get flustered easily.

You know what? Though I never would have admitted it before, until last year, I had this hunch that my need for quiet was a weakness. Sometimes I heard myself saying things light-heartedly to friends or family who seemed to accomplish more in a day than I ever could, who seemed to sleep less than I did and be very efficient with jobs and kids and life, things like, “My mental health requires me to get sleep” or “I’m just too too cranky if I don’t have downtime.” Or something like that.

But I felt it was a weakness. Really. If only I were more focused, I would think. If only I were more motivated, I would think.

I’ve felt at times like I was simply not as capable as my friends, my colleagues, the bloggers I read. These people do so much with their time and, some of them at least, really seem to enjoy Doing All The Things.

When I first came across the category “highly sensitive person” last year and read the characteristics of such a person (some studies say 15-20% of the population might be HSP), I felt like someone was describing my interior life to a T.

I’m not kidding. What I thought were my own strange neuroses, these things that made me feel wimpy and even inadequate, were on that list.

I cry easily. Caffeine affects me like crazy. I feel the weight of others’ burdens. I process slowly and take a very long time to make decisions. I don’t like loud noises, chaotic and unpredictable environments, or violent movies or television shows. I’m prone to anxiety and depression. I have a really good sense of smell. It takes me a very long time to decompress after a busy evening. I am sensitive to criticism. I worry a lot that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings. I’m detail oriented and notice when things aren’t right. I make lists, lots of lists, so that nothing gets overlooked when we’re packing. It’s important to me to be prepared, to not face unexpected things–because I expect everything. Also, aesthetics matter to me–I am moved by beautiful art and beautiful spaces and beautiful books.

What I know now is that all of these things are related to the fact that I need quiet, that I like to sit and think.

And what I also know is that this thoughtful sensitivity, this quiet-craving, is not a weakness. True, I can’t achieve what others can achieve, whatever that means.

But who cares?

Because my lack of day-to-day achievement is a blessing.

How so?

My slower pace enables me to see and appreciate beauty in otherwise overlooked minute and mundane details.

I’ve realized that it makes me better able to emphathize. I notice when people are hurting. I’m pretty good at following-up with people and keeping track of what’s going on in others’ lives.

And whatever vibe it is I give off, it’s one that strangers pick up on. They talk to me. 

All of that to say, I need the quiet to process all of these things, to process my life. And I need rest. Space to breath. Notebooks to write in, post-its to make lists on. A beautiful pen with which to write those lists.

Motherhood doesn’t allow for a lot of that, but I do what I can to make it happen. I hire a babysitter. I designated an upstairs spare room as my art room. I’m writing a poem every day this month as part of a local writers’ initiative. I set my alarm to get up early and enjoy a cup of tea before the day begins. I don’t set very high goals for the day and instead take moments as they come: Meghan Trainor dance parties while washing dishes, belting out Over the Rhine in the car when I run a salad over to the church for a funeral lunch, soaking in our time together on colorful Adirondack chairs in the yard on a beautiful afternoon.

This is not the kind of person who climbs the corporate ladder and becomes CEO, the person who makes six figures, has myriad followers on Facebook, the person who tries to squeeze more hours into a day.

This is the kind of person who repurposes an old canvas and writes a poem about it.

This is the kind of person who can call life sacramental–and believe it.

This is the kind of person who listens for the still, small voice.

This is the person who might, some days, hear it.

You know what that voice says?


Be still.

Have peace.

And I do.

I think you do, too.

Because sometimes, when something makes me cry and the eldest sees those tears, she comes over to me and gently rubs my arm, leaning against me, without saying a word.


Your Momma