Thing 1 had a short playdate on the far side of the city that disallowed driving all the way home & back. I LOVE it when this happens. I’m a high-strung mom from Puritan stock… being idle wreaks havoc on my nerves. But when gently forced to pause, I adore it. Waiting rooms, city buses, friends who never show up. Love! So I sat in a parking lot listening to public radio and crocheting. Bliss.
I listened to Radiolab’s “Sound as Touch.” I learned of Anne Fernald’s findings that there are a set of common tunes within the words that parents all over the world speak to their babies. Across cultures, parents sound the same. “Sound is touch at a distance.” I learned about the 1913 riots during the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring when brains could not make sense of the unfamiliar dissonance. And about the mechanics of how the brain understands sound.
Waves of vibrating air start compressed in your voice box, then upon iteration they travel through time and space into my ear, through a little tunnel — they vibrate a few very small bones, which in turn transmit the vibration into this salty sea where fluid literally bends little hairs to make sound, and then charged molecules rush into the brain. “Sound is touch at a distance.” Dissonance (unpleasant sound) has chemical consequences – neurons revolt and dopamine is released into the brain. Extreme dopamine release is one symptom of schizophrenia, and at lesser levels would have instigated the Stravinsky riots.
You see where I’m going as I circle back to parenting… But for me it was huge. I yell. It’s not my primary parenting tool, but I do. And I had a theory that to withstand big emotions would be a good skill that I wish I’d had. But whoa. A stranger’s dissonance can drive a group of people to riot, we know. When that dissonance is ratcheted up, what happens? When it is one-on-one? Coming from the person you love most, your life source? And then, what if you have sensory processing disorder, which one or both of my kids do? Yes, there is a science behind why shouting at someone feels like an assault. It is. Sound is touch at a distance.
So I have joined an online group of moms who are all trying to stop yelling, and I have slowed down our nightly read-aloud time to bathe them in my gentle voice. I try to look my children in the eye, look at the color of their eyes (he has dad’s, she has mine), at their souls. I look for my triggers — and they are often sound! I am overwhelmed by repetitive, jarring, or loud sounds. As are my kids. Sigh. I am also humbled by the Radiolab story enough to share it with you, to hope that we can speak with kindness more often. To keep up with my progress, sign up for my weekly-ish Ezine over at Funnermother.com.