By Susan Etlinger; originally published on the blog The Family Room.
I lay in bed at night, soothed to sleep by the sound of crickets and the occasional owl. “HOO Hoo. Hoo Hoo,” it would call night after night, familiar music through my bedroom window.
Sometimes I would hear coyotes keening through the brush. One would start to yowl, then the others would join in and–just as suddenly–fall silent.
It was peaceful in my bedroom, at least on the nights that I couldn’t hear my parents arguing. Our house was at the end of a cul-de-sac, butting up against the scrubby hillside and all its rightful inhabitants. Every day at around dusk a squirrel would come down the hill and drink from our pool, his tail twitching anxiously at the slightest breeze. Sometimes we’d find the odd garden snake on the front steps. Once we found a baby rattler, and, not long after, a large hairy black tarantula making its leisurely way through the ivy.
It was wild and utterly ordinary, and it’s the image I conjure when I’m looking for a sense of peace, my inner compass.
J. and I made the decision to raise Isaac in the city early on. Both kids of the suburbs, we loved the idea of being able to walk anywhere from our front door, or hop on the bus at a moment’s notice. We loved the diversity, the parks, the energy of city life, the variety of things to do.
But I can’t help feeling a little melancholy that the sounds that soothed me as a child–the hum of wildlife going about its daily business–are not available to him. Instead he falls asleep to the neighbors’ conversation on the deck below, to diesel buses and police cars and babies crying and dogs barking in the distance.
We recently began introducing the concept of peacefulness to Isaac. His understanding of emotions grows day by day; yesterday, he informed me solemnly, “I was grouchy before, but now I feel happy.” And so beyond happiness–a state that he guards intensely–lie other more nuanced feelings: excitement, fear, worry, surprise, and now, peacefulness.
“Do you want me to rub your back?” I asked him not long ago as we completed our nightly bedtime ritual. “Yes,” he whispered, his face buried in the sheets. I rubbed his back in slow circles, whispering to him, and told him that this was what peaceful feels like: when your breathing is slow, and your voice is low, and your muscles feel loose and heavy as you drift closer to sleep.
“Do you feel peaceful now?” I asked, my voice a whisper. “Yes,” he said, and closed his eyes.