Turn Down For What


When the Dude was a baby, he refused to sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. He’d fall asleep in my arms, looking all angelic and harmless, and I’d set him in his crib and shuffle back to bed. As soon as I was about to drift off, however, I’d hear his whimpers through the monitor and trudge back in to pick him up.

For six weeks, my husband and I traded shifts. One of us would sleep and the other would hold the child.

I mentioned our problem to the pediatrician, and she asked how I knew I had to go pick up the Dude.

“He cries.” Duh. What kind of pediatrician was she?

“Does he cry?” she asked. “Or does he ooch.”  My blank stare was a mix of confusion and exhaustion, so she continued to explain.

“An ooch isn’t a real cry, it’s sort of a whimper of discomfort, like when you complain about dinner taking too long to arrive after you order, or your husband leaving his dirty socks on the floor.”

When I thought about it, I picked the Dude up the minute I heard any sound at all. It was ooching, not crying, but when my husband can’t sleep, his stare is enough to keep me awake, let alone an ooching baby.

That’s when the pediatrician gave me the greatest advice of all time. “Turn the monitor down. Better yet, turn it off. if your baby needs you, he’ll let you know.”

Funny, once we turned the monitor off, the child slept through the night. Now he can sleep through just about anything, including his econ class.

When I was working as a consultant, I’d get calls at all hours of the day and night. Once, I even got a call at 3 a.m. from a manager who was looking not for me, but for a woman who worked for me. In Canada. I said, “I looked around my bedroom and she’s not here.”

When I asked him why the hell he was calling me to find a woman in a completely different country, he answered, “Because she doesn’t answer her phone, but you do.”

Most of the work calls I received after reasonable business hours weren’t urgent. In fact, most of them were complaints about events I couldn’t alter or correct because they were already over. Some were only half-thought out–a knee-jerk response to an event without any real call to action.  I’d trained my coworkers, however, to expect that I would answer any call that came in, no matter how trivial. It was ooching. I needed to turn off the monitor.

From that point on, when I left my office, I left my office. No phone. No checking email. If something urgent needed my attention, folks could find me. They were creative that way. Funny, once I stopped responding immediately to every call and email, the ones I did receive were less reactive and more thoughtful.

The Dude is grown and I’ve left consulting, but I still find quietude in rare supply.

Sometimes I feel like the world is screaming at me. So much media, so much noise, so much anger. Devices ping and ring and play snippets of music to let me know they’re tired of being ignored. I get email notifications from blogs that I follow, websites that purchase from and groups I belong to. My landline rings with surveys and sweepstakes and political robocalls.

Even now, the Dude ooches, only now he does it via text. I used to respond right away, glad to provide assistance, even for problems he could have solved himself with nothing more than a google search. I spent an entire afternoon at a museum listening to him complain about how much his life sucked at college–a problem I couldn’t solve, at a time when I should have been enjoying where I was and the people I was with. When I realized I was hurting him more than I was helping him, I stopped answering his texts right away. It’s only fair. He takes his own sweet time in answering mine.

This constant connection to the ooching universe leaves me with little time and space to think. So much crowds my brain, the words and stories get all tangled up with the competition.

So every day, I turn off the proverbial monitors once a day. No email, no phone, no Facebook, no texts. I allow the house to be totally silent. It’s sort of creepy at first. We aren’t good at being still, or being around stillness. Most of what tugs at our skirts all day, however, isn’t urgent. It’s just stuff.

And you know what? While I’m enjoying silence, the world spins along all the same. Just because the universe runs on the idea of “I ooch therefore I am”, I am not required to listen, and sometimes the universe is better off for not having been heard.

I suggest this to others, and I get a lot of pushback. We all want to feel important, and turning off the monitor requires us to accept that maybe we aren’t as invaluable as we think we are. It also requires us to deal with the unhappy people we’ve trained to expect our ubiquitous availability.

What makes it all worth it? When I’ve had enough of the silence, I’m ready to really listen.

So I thank you for taking a moment to read this blog. Now turn off your computer and take in some quiet. I’ll all be here when you get back.

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5 comments on “Turn Down For What

  1. And all the people (me, at least) said, “YES”!

  2. Mindy Gaertner says:

    Dear Jeannine,

    You are such an amazing and gifted woman. I am so proud to have you as my friend.

    Hugs, Mindy >

  3. MGB says:

    Love this……!

  4. Wise and witty as ever. This reminds me (again, still) why your blog posts are so perfect – because you have such point-on things to say, with humor, grace, and universality. Always.Thank you, dear friend 🙂

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