“If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” my 9-year-old asked me the other evening.
“You tell me … When I blow you a kiss, do you feel it?” I asked back.
“Yes. No,” he said. “Well, both.”
“Then there’s your answer,” I told him.
“Well, which is it?” he asked.
My high school boyfriend went on to major in philosophy at a small, progressive college in Vermont. And while I’m sure Berkeley’s questions regarding observation vs. reality were probably way too mainstream for their curriculum, it still begged the question when I saw him next.
“What the heck did you do for four years?”
“What did you do?” he asked.
This was obviously some philosophical thing where you answer question with a question.
“Well, it’s worth exploring, isn’t it?” he asked. “Does four years as a journalism major, studying the fundamental world of a comma, trump my four years of exploring the fundamental world of thought?”
We went on this way for several hours, exchanging question after question. And, despite the fact we had no answers, we ended up having a good time. So I decided to email him my son’s question.
“If a tree falls in the forest,” he wrote, “it makes a very loud noise, which is then followed by a very punctuated silence. The silence is actually the response of all the living things in the forest to the noise.”
“He’s 9,” I wrote back.
“People get stuck on this because they love to be confused by language,” he responded. “But that’s your department. The bottom line is that if he screams for help in a forest and no one is around, it really doesn’t do him any good.”
Aha. So that’s what this was about. My son was feeling vulnerable – unheard.
So I spent the next couple of days shadowing him, making sure all of his needs were being met and invited him to talk to me any time, day or night.
“Why would I want to talk to you?” he asked.
“You know, in case anything’s bothering you. I am here to help – to listen. I’m like a bird in that tree.”
“The one that fell in the forest?”
He was killing me.
“The forest where the tree falls and no one is around to hear it. Well, I am here for you. I will listen. WHAT IS ON YOUR MIND?!”
“Um, that you’re crazy?” he said, and then walked off to play drums in his room.
Am I crazy? Why, yes – all parents are. Whackadoodle nutjobs are among us every day, roaming soccer fields and orthodontists offices, numb from having no idea what to do next, or how to fix what they did last.
Why does no one talk about this aspect of parenting? I don’t remember anyone mentioning when I decided to get pregnant that if I didn’t know if a tree made noise in an empty forest when I was 9, I probably wouldn’t at 40. Parenting doesn’t morph you into a know-it-all at all. It just gives you the uncanny ability to drown out your son’s drums.
So maybe my high school boyfriend raises a good question after all. While the world of commas has allowed me to be heard in the forest that is parenthood, the world of fundamental thought is what keeps you listening.
Thank you for reading Sugar Mama. Email me questions at [email protected] for a new advice column that will appear once a month.