I have six children, four of whom are age 4 and under. My days begin before dawn, and sometimes end before my oldest son has left his tablet on the charging station and made his way up to bed. I sometimes find myself falling asleep in the shower, not remembering whether or not I’ve put shampoo in my hair.
There’s a lot going on with the two older kids—academic competitions, schoolwork, Instagram (!)—but let’s focus on the more cacophonous child mass. For them, days are filled with sippy cups, chocolate milk, Berenstain Bears books, carseat buckling, Ziploc bags of veggie sticks, singing of the alphabet, and repeated, sometimes observed prohibitions on hitting/kicking/biting one’s siblings.
Our nights are filled with moments that, in retrospect, will be filled with hilarity—the 3-year-old bringing a huge, heavy, half-her-body-size lamp into my bedroom, shaking me awake to tell me, “This doesn’t work.”—but in the meantime seem like a cruel experiment in sleep interruption.
The 2-year-old knows all her letters and is teaching herself to read…but the 4-year-old and 3-year-old, not so much. They love stickers and playing in the snow and taking off their mittens as soon as I put them on. We are in the thick of a potty training struggle that looks like a siege on…see, I can’t even remember the name of a town that would be a good joke. That’s because I’m losing my mind. I might even really be losing my mind—I have so many headaches lately—but fortunately/unfortunately, I don’t have the time to schedule an MRI.
These are the xylophone years.
I’m talking about the classic xylophone: the old classic pull-along xylophone that, when a little kid drags it behind her as she runs all over the basement, makes a cacophony of bell sounds. It’s what you might imagine it would sound like if a bunch of doorbells decided to get trashed and go bananas in Vegas. It’s a loud and funny sound that doesn’t sound like anything else in the world. It somehow sucks in all other noise. It is louder than the fighting, louder than the singing, louder than talking…even louder than the voices in your head asking, “How did I get here?”
It’s a loud, happy, and full noise. It sounds like movement and fun. It sounds like batshit crazy. And it is.
And in a few years, that noise will stop.
I look at my older children as they sit on the couch, tablets in hand, earphones on. They Skype, they watch crazy videos with dancing horses and other Internet-purveyed stupidity. They take the earphones off and talk, with me or with each other. Sure, it’s quieter. Sure, you can hear yourself think. But it doesn’t have the sound of abandon and chaos of the xylophone years.
The xylophone years, when you’re living in them, are jangly and jarring and oh my God why are they so freaking loud?? They render concentration an impossibility. They are unmitigated chaos.
And, one day that is far too close, they will be gone. And these little people will disappear and will turn into larger, quieter people who won’t wear every thought on their sleeves and won’t loudly announce every emotion and thought that they have the very second they have them. These small faces will one day go away and turn in other directions—away from me.
So it’s loud as hell and it’s exhausting and frenetic and the opposite of peaceful. I buy large bottles of Excedrin. And yet, I know that the day will come, one day, when I will miss these xylophone years.