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I have that hyper-vigilant ear that mothers sometimes develop, enhanced hearing that insists on picking up every sound within 20 miles and identifying it. The kind of hearing that is easily tormented  by a dripping faucet or the sound of running water. No one else can hear a darn thing in this house, my mother being older, my husband having run power tools all is life, the kids having not yet learned how to listen to anything but themselves and their world.

I hear all alone, every faucet left on, every dish broken, every cupboard slammed. It’s a lot of work, that unrecognized emotional work, that invisible labor that many wives and moms often engage in, constantly scanning the environment for threats and potential disasters. Always listening for that baby’s cry or even the sound of a toddler’s silence that often signifies trouble of some sort. Silence can be the most disturbing sound of all.

Pondering footsteps today, the personalities behind them, the way my ears have come to recognize who is who. My youngest daughter used to be the pitter patter of a hurricane, a constant storm brewing and then a crash. Today she is the rapid fire thump-thump of hurricane footsteps, still followed by a crash or several. That child’s brain moves much faster than her feet and I’ve yet to see her enter or leave a room without dropping something or knocking it over. Walls get in her way, doors, tables. She once bragged to some friends about allegedly sneaking in and out of the house and even dad cracked up laughing. A ninja she is not. Her idea of “sneaking in” would involve diving head first through a plate-glass window, with Bach playing as back ground music.

My husband has some lovely footsteps, slow and steady. He’s a big guy but surprisingly light on his feet, so his footsteps are actually soft and deliberate. I’ve never heard him stomp or thump. Yes, even the man’s footsteps make my heart go pitter patter.

Our dog scratches across the hardwood, all those fingernails click-clicking, and although he is old and fat now and moves slowly, he sounds like he is really going somewhere.

My mother actually is a ninja, a dancer for many years really, so she can still move silently, gracefully. I have to sense her footsteps more than I hear them. She can scare people, she’ll sneak up on them, even me after all these years.

My son’s footsteps are familiar, almost spooky because they are my footsteps, our rhythm and cadence being so similar, it is as if I have left my body and walked across the room.

I have a brother-in-law who often comes by to raid the coffee pot. His footsteps are happy, enthusiastic, he hops his way across my deck, a bit shifty really, bouncing from foot to foot, almost like a boxer.

My husband, bless his heart, somehow understood that the kids are now grown, that the need to keep one ear tuned in to a baby’s cry has long past, that my ears need rest, that I need rest from all that noise that sometimes haunts me, and so our bedroom is now a sanctuary, a safe place with the white noise of a fan running, drowning out the world’s chatter.

Hubby can be surprisingly astute sometimes. Such a simple thing, “you need quiet,” but “quiet” something so far away, so long forgotten, I had no idea how important it was.