Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

I’ll grant the desperation, but where’s this “quiet”?

Being a parent means, for me at least, living with a tremendous amount of new noise.  Back when our house was freshly-built and relatively empty, there were long, luxurious stretches of time during which one could count on being the only sound-maker in the place.  My wife’s and my work schedules would sometimes conspire to leave one of us the uncontested master of the castle, completely alone at home.  Turns out you can get a lot of reading (and yes, a lot of computer gaming) done when you have basically no responsibilities – and no smaller version(s) of you giving voice to any number of needs.

Then the kids came – Eleanor, the last to be delivered, came home last, in the middle of Hurricane Irene.  We lost power for 7 hours that night, and she cried almost the entire time.

The house would never sound the same.

Of course crying isn’t the only noise.  There are sounds I wouldn’t want to go without, now:  Alice laughing on the inhale, chuckling like an old Downeaster; Paul carefully rounding his lips and trying to make the train sound, “choo-choo”; Ellie announcing my name – “Da-da” – with precision and enthusiasm.  Then there are the bleeps and tones of the scattered toys with their oddly exaggerated childlike electronic voices.  There’s the TV playing out the soundtracks to the shows we hypnotize the kids with when all hope seems lost; the radio (turned way up if we’re actually trying to listen) when things are better.

I never thought of myself as particularly sensitive to sound – I’m a visual guy – but the degree to which all this noise becomes, apparently, a substitute for thought is remarkable.  Things get done; time passes; it’s just that your mind has almost nothing to do with it.  Defying the chaos, you manage to make a rational observation (we need gutters for the porch):  retaining that thought long enough to act upon it becomes a feat of Herculean proportions.

Dan over at Our Wives are Mommy-Blogging  describes his strategy for dealing with some of the frustration that comes with the territory in a post called “Detachment Parenting”.  He writes:

They key tenet of my philosophy is not getting so close (emotionally? physically?) that his casual cruelty and selfishness overcomes my self control. Oh, there have been times when the rage builds up and I have to scream into a pillow. I’ve punched mattresses. I’ve ordered sandwiches. Lapses in self control that have not, because of my detachment approach, resulted in the lad’s death.

It’s a good way to put it – that odd ambivalence that comes with fatherhood.

Another way to put it is, sometimes you feel like Cuchulainn when the battle-rage seizes him.