Friday, June 3, 2011

buffer zone

Though I am (obviously) a person of many words, my capacity to say them and to hear them is not infinite. My recent trip to the lake reminded me of this. The sun and the well-behaved, happy children made for a pleasant morning, but by noon I found that my capacity to listen and speak to children was utterly worn out.

“Hey mommy watch!” “Mommy look at that boat! How do they pull skiers like that?” “Hey mommy can you tell him that I want to have that toy next?” “Mommy look at that fish!” “Hey mommy watch again!” “Can you take a picture of me?” “Mommy I have sand on my feet!” “Look at my dump truck!” “Can you come swimming?” “Can I jump to you?” “Can I take my life jacket off?” “Can I put my life jacket back on?” “Hey mommy watch THIS! Are you watching?”

It is important to listen and to talk with children, it is, and mothers must do it often and long. But sometimes moms need to recharge their processors. They need silence, time for defragmenting, time to recharge that ability for so much listening and talking.

Until someone invents a real and portable “cone of silence,” I think we are going to have to do the best with what we have. When an actual break is not possible, I have found some sanity restored by taking a mini-break. Mini-breaks are possible for mothers, once we learn the art of creating a buffer zone.

(Definition of a buffer zone: A neutral area between hostile or belligerent forces that serves to prevent conflict and talking. Italics mine.)

My teacher friend made this.
I think she should mass produce these.
Caution: The ages of the children I have in mind are kids who have hit the I-kind-of-trust-them-a-little age--- Somewhere above age 2, when at least I know they won’t eat a rock or something---but have not quite reached the I-don’t-care-what-you-do-as-long-as-it-is-not-right-here age.

Remember mothers, the ideal buffer zone allows you to be just far enough away to be removed from normal conversation, but close enough to be accessible case of emergency.

Physical Hurdles
Inside: Make them go somewhere else and close the door, where they can be heard but not seen. If children are especially trustworthy, mother may be the person in the room with the closed door. The presence of the closed door may discourage some unnecessary direct conversation. If necessary, use a lock, and perhaps a big sign with a frowny face to discourage frivolous knocking.

Outside: Assess your surroundings, in particular the speed and direction of the wind, the presence of other background noise, and any existing structures that might slow them down. Be especially mindful of natural hurdles: anything that will interrupt or slow or otherwise discourage a child’s journey to the mother. Natural hurdles include: a body of water, a long climb uphill, or something that might simply distract a would-be tattler, like a cute little puppy dog.
Position yourself behind natural hurdles.

If no natural hurdles are present, ideal distance seems to be at least 25-30 feet.
Children understand, at this distance, that shouting to mother “it was my turn with the such and such but he did such and such and then I said such and such and then …” would require an exorbitant amount of energy.

Audio Hurdles
When physical hurdles are not forthcoming, try adjusting the auditory factors in your situation.

Play some very loud music. Music you enjoy, not old VBS songs (those will just make you crazier.) It is not silence per se that will restore your soul, but if the music is loud enough, their silence will still give you that mini-break. Music, though it is noise, does not require mother to explain herself or repeat herself or respond in any way if she chooses not to. The louder, the better, and the more discerning the children will become.  (Is this really worth interrupting mother when she is car-dancing?)

Makeshift Hurdles
When you cannot make use of physical hurdles and loud music is not a possibility, you may have to resort to the use of props.

Hold a small baby
Snuggle and rock a precious little baby, and when children come to you with words, politely turn them away with a whisper, “I’m sorry honey I can’t help you right now. I’m trying to put the baby to sleep. You can play right here, but you have to be very, very quiet.”
(If no baby is handy, find a kitten or something.)

Talk on the phone
Grown up conversation is less exhausting and uses different parts of the brain. Again, redirect them with polite quiet words and hope they give up before you do.

By which I mean, read a book or plug in the earphones and listen to something. “Sorry honey, mommy’s working right now, I’ll be done in 20 minutes and we can talk about it then."

I have also considered feigning a hearing problem or simply covering myself with a blanket, but so far, I have been rescued just before attempting this. Still, I would not put it past me.


  1. a big sign with a frowny face to discourage frivolous knocking.
    Great idea! It seems that just when I finally get the baby to sleep in her cradle, without fail, there's a loud Knock, Knock,Knock! "Mom??" and then "Wahhh!" from the cradle. Hah! Buffers indeed!

  2. "or a kitten or something" I knew there was a reason to get a pet.

  3. I remember hearing about Mrs. Wesley (John Wesley's mother), who had 19 children--can you imagine??? Anyway! Her signal to her children to leave mom alone was to throw her apron over her head. Apparently, each child was given a day of the week that was their day to be especially close to Mommy. It's apparent that moms have been needing buffer zones for centuries! :)


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