My mom read me a picture book when I was little about a man who lives in a cabin in the woods. I can’t remember the name of it to save my life, but I can vividly see the almost woodcut-looking illustrations in my mind.
Anyhow, it’s about this man who lives alone and is bothered by all the ambient noises in his small cabin—the teakettle hissing, the floor creaking, the fire crackling, the wind rustling the trees. If my memory is correct, he visits a wise man and asks for advice on how to have a quieter cabin. The wise man’s advice: bring a cow into the house.
Of course, the cow in the house makes noise. So the man goes back and says that it isn’t quieter with a cow in the house. The next advice: bring a sheep in the house, too. So a sheep comes into the cabin and makes more noise too.
This pattern continues as the wise person repeatedly tells the man to add a horse and other animals to the household, which is now noisier than ever.
The wise person advises the man to remove the cow, and the sheep, the horse, the birds, and all the other noisy creatures.
So he does. And what happens?
The man hears the teakettle hiss, the floor creak, the fire crackle, and the wind rustle the trees. And he thinks, “Ah, how quiet!”
I keep thinking about this reclusive bearded man because I am now very much like him. Without the beard, though. And I’m not reclusive, most of the time.
I’m like the man in the little cabin because I thought I was once surrounded by noise and chaos when Henry and Jack were small, when I had one typical child and one special needs child. And you know, it really was chaos, but it was largely emotional as I grappled with the sadness of Jack’s differences and our collective limitations. It felt like an insane life.
So I prayed and counterintuitively knew that our family wasn’t complete. We had Charlie. Who has special needs. Even if they are different than Jack’s, they are there and they are real.
My house grew noisier. More barn-like. Jack did not accept Charlie as a baby, throwing things at him and screaming every time they were in the same room. Literally.
I told God that everything was impossibly hard, because everything was, and He told me to have another baby. Jeff and I stared at each other in mutual desolation when we had this conversation. We knew exactly what we were getting into with another baby, and our house was already figuratively stuffed to the beams with livestock and noise. And droppings.
But we just knew. So we did. We had Truman. Who was premature. And on a ventilator. In the NICU. For weeks.
Our house was by this time a veritable 4H convention with livestock roaming the halls and chickens roosting in the corners. In a sense, anyway.
It wasn’t more peaceful. It was crazy. Deafening.
I needed the animals to go.
This is how it happened:
Charlie was diagnosed and treated with medication and therapy. He was enrolled in an autism unit at school, where he flourishes.
The cow left.
Truman came home from the hospital and grew big and healthy and smart and bossy. He’s Baby. And our lives wouldn’t be complete without him.
The sheep left.
Jack adjusted to Charlie and eventually to Truman. He progressed in some areas, but not all. He does regress, too, because that’s life. But he’s growing and we are figuring him out, slowly.
The horse left.
Jack qualified for disability services. We started getting respite care and summer camp for Jack. We found meds and strategies to avoid and calm Jack’s tantrums.
The noisy rooster left.
And while it may seem pretty wild, my house is relatively quiet. I can appreciate this now since the herds of domesticated animals have gone.
Jack listened to Christmas stories tonight, peacefully. It rained and blew outside.
Inside, there were quiet sounds.