Saturday, June 03, 2006


When I was a kid, I used to be disturbed by sounds in the night. I would hear creaking and sharp snaps that sent chills up my spine. On one level I knew they were nothing, but, without my permission, they became huge events that jolted me to my core. I was terrified.

I don't notice these sounds any more. Once in a while, when I am sleeping at a new house, I will notice a creak or two, but in general, it seems what was once a big deal is now gone.

I don't miss them, but I wonder if my children are attuned to similar creaks or if I just lived in an especially creaky house. Lately I've been trying to notice the creaks. Are they still there? To a child's ears are they big and ominous? I can’t hear them, but I think the kids do.

Ironically, just when I can no longer notice creaks, I think I have better ears than ever, having developed that part of the brain that is "mother's ears." The part that constantly monitors background noise for any aberration. Have my "mother's ears" somehow drowned out my "child's ears"? I just don't think my children hear the same things I do at all. What are they talking about?

And then I think, why are they worried? What do they have to worry about? When maybe that is it. We are each worried about totally different things. To them, the world is big and mysterious, full of strange happenings, unexplainable events, proverbial monsters. To them, these are very real, but to me, “it just your imagination.” (I don’t say that, actually, but it’s tempting sometimes.) Sounds are huge, unknown, scary. From my point of view, there is just so much to understand and keep track of and so little sleep to be had that I now habitually screen out mere creaks and groans to leave room for the myriad other details. We will always occupy our minds with something, and it seems the fuller they are, the less we need to sweat the small stuff.

At least that is one theory. And then I heard a story last week on NPR that gave me another idea. I would have thought the story was an April Fool’s joke if it hadn’t been broadcast in May. The story was about an inventor who invented this sound that can be broadcast to repel teenagers. Try it here. It turns out that most people over about 30 can’t hear in the high frequencies anymore, but teenagers can. By playing a high frequency sound and pulsing it, teenagers get irritated and leave, but adults can’t hear it and aren’t bothered at all. It has been used outside stores where teens used to congregate and has successfully driven them away.

Ironically, the teens have since taken back the sound. (The inventor’s 16 year old daughter was also interviewed). They recorded it onto their cell phones. Only, the high frequency was too high to record, so one of them went home and created a slightly lower frequency on their computer and recorded that to the cell phone. Why? They use this sound as their cell phone ring tone because adults, namely teachers at their schools, can’t hear it, and they can then surreptitiously text message to their heart’s content, teacher being non the wiser. Whoa.

So, here is the link to the teen buzz. Try it and see if you can hear it. At normal volume, I can’t hear it at all. If I turn up the volume all the way, I can hear it a bit, and it is annoying. I shudder to think there are things I can’t perceive, but it is true. And just when I get to a time in my life when sounds, usually loud sounds made by the kids, suddenly really are irritating I find I am losing my hearing. How can this be? Maybe my kids really do live in a different aural universe. Maybe they really can hear monsters. And now I blame them, and think that maybe adults adaptively loose their high frequency hearing after the first baby… I mean, how many more irritating things do you really need?

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