A person can get used to anything. Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going to get all philosophical today. I’m not going to be talking about Stockholm Syndrome. (I’ll save that topic for another episode, since I have indeed, fallen in love with my children.)
For now, I’m only focusing on the nagging annoyances of everyday life – the ones I initially thought would cause me to run screaming from the room, but eventually, without my even realizing it, came to be an unnoticed part of my ordinary life.
Here’s an example: When I first moved into town, I thought I would never grow accustomed to the noise. During my first weeks of living in small town USA, I believed I had made a grave mistake. I would lie awake at night, kept alert by the glow of the streetlights streaming through my bedroom window and the occasional rumble of a vehicle passing. I seriously considered putting my house back on the market due to the extreme noise and light pollution produced in this metropolis of 900 people.
Little did I know then, someday I would treasure the tranquil sound of passing trucks. When an infant is well into the third hour of colicky screaming, a parent cannot hear a moped, let alone a diesel pickup without a muffler. When a seven-year-old has a constant croupy cough, a parent doesn’t notice that the ambulances just went out on a call, sirens blaring. When a teen’s music reverberates into the corners of every room
(and brain cell), a parent is oblivious to the neighborhood dogs barking. The things I least expect to miss, I do.
A few years ago, we repartitioned an area of our old house. I don’t blame Joel, because the smoke detector was white, just like the wall behind it was, but somehow, we walled in a fire alarm. No big deal, we thought at first. We’ll be well-informed if we ever have a fire behind that wall! Heck, the wiring was kind of iffy back there anyway. It’s probably a good thing to have done. By the time the battery went dead on that thing, we had convinced ourselves that we walled that smoke alarm in on purpose.
But, as listeners probably know, when a smoke detector battery starts to die, the device emits a little chirp every few minutes - nothing piercing, just a subtle beep.
About six months after the remodeling job, we were sitting at the dining room table when we heard it. “Whose phone went off?” I asked.
When no one fessed up to having a ringtone of a dying, robotic bird, we chalked it up as an anomaly and progressed with dinner. But a moment later, we heard it again. “Probably some electronic toy,” Joel said.
“Ah, yes,” I responded, remembering the time a pretend cell phone had gotten buried at the bottom of the toy box with the call button depressed. “That’s a relief; if experience serves, it will probably stop in a couple months, when the battery dies.”
But within a few more chirps’ time, we began to make uncomfortable eye contact across the table. Realization had dawned: Perhaps it hadn’t been a stroke of genius to wall in the smoke detector.
How long does the chirping go on before the valiant little device gives out completely? It goes on for nine months. Forty. Weeks. Once every minute for 40 weeks adds up to 40, 320 chirps. What a testament to the quality of the manufacturing! What a guarantee of security and safety for our family! If, in the unlikely event that no family member burns the house down at about the 29,856th chirp, we can all celebrate the marvels of modern technology.
Then one day, it stopped. As quickly as the still, small chirp insinuated itself into our lives, it was gone. We could dine once more, interrupted only by the occasional noise of a neighborhood dog’s bark or truck driving by.
I think we all felt a bit dispirited. Our common enemy, the shared anguish, that had united us, was gone. A certain je ne sais quoi was absent. We forged bravely on, wiser and more tolerant than before.
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