Yelling into our playroom, “kids what’s going on in there?” on a regular basis was typical when our children were small.
Usually, I’d heard roughhousing — giggling, knocks against the wall, creaking couch springs, yips and squeals. You’d think the innocent sounds of our children playing would warm our hearts, but as experienced parents, Francis and I knew that wholesome noises often lead to bonked heads, chipped teeth and poked eyes.
However, there were other times when we hadn’t heard squeals, bumps, or creaking floorboards. No singing, hammering, smacking or crying. No dolls being thrown, sippy cups hitting the floor, or lamps getting knocked over.
What we heard was something far more terrifying: total silence.
Let’s face it, kids are noisy. They sniffle, babble, fidget, fiddle and whine. Silence is a clear sign that something’s wrong.
Case in point: One night, when our family was stationed in Virginia, Francis and I let our 5-year-old son, Hayden, and his 2-year-old sister, Anna, watch a video in the playroom before bedtime.
Back in those days, we savored every peaceful second that a half-hour video provided as if it was some kind of luxurious spa treatment. As soon as we popped a tape into the VCR, we would dash down the stairs to melt into our couch cushions. With the doors open, we could hear the murmur of the often-played video and the sounds of our kids tinkering with toys. After countless nights of the same routine, we’d know exactly when our time was up.
But on this night, the half hour flew by without us noticing. Twenty minutes or so after the video was over, I nudged Francis. “Uh oh … I don’t hear the kids.”
“Hayden and Anna!” Francis yelled up the playroom stairs, “What’s going on in there?”
Soon we heard little padded feet scurrying and intermittent giggling. Hayden and Anna slunk downstairs, and appeared before us with their heads bowed in guilt. When they looked up, we saw that they each had green marker scribbled all over their hands and faces.
“What have you two been doing?” we demanded. Anna’s enormous brown eyes flashed to her older brother.
“Playing,” Hayden said.
“Hayden and Anna, you’re not supposed to use markers on skin,” I scolded. Reaching for a tub of baby wipes, I noticed green marks on Anna’s neck that dipped below the collar of her footed pajamas. I unzipped her pjs, and gasped.
Anna’s chest, belly, arms, legs, feet, hands and back were a green, inky mess. A quick inspection of Hayden revealed that, other than his green hands, he was marker-free. The culprit was obvious.
“Hayden! Why did you scribble all over your little sister?” Francis pressed.
“Not me,” Hayden shrugged.
“Then how did your name get in the middle of Anna’s back? Do you expect us to believe that she put it there? She can’t even read yet!” I barked.
We looked down at our sheepish kids, realizing that Hayden had pulled off a classic big brother prank on his adoring little sister. Francis and I tried to maintain a serious demeanor, but one side glance at each other was all it took to get us laughing.
Pretty soon, all four of us were cracking up. Anna had no idea what was so funny, but she laughed right along with us.
After a second round of baths to remove the washable marker, we tucked them into bed for the night. We stopped by the playroom to turn out the lights, still smiling about their sweet shenanigans.
The grins drained from our faces when we saw what the kids had really been up to. The tattooing of Anna had just been the icing on the cake. The real masterpiece was in our formerly pale yellow playroom. Somehow, in the time it took for us to realize that the video had ended, Hayden had managed to create a mural of scribbles on all four walls in every color of the rainbow.
And he did it in complete silence.
Whoever said, ‘children should be seen, not heard,’ clearly wasn’t a parent.