I'm feeling very Margaret Mead lately. I've been recording my life. Not every detail of my life, though sometimes it does feel that way. I'm doing it for my podcast about my re-entry into the workforce after a prolonged maternity leave to be with my young kids. (You can hear it at firstdaybackpodcast.com.)
As a result of said podcast, I am walking around my house recording my family. I record my kids playing, I've recorded us eating supper, I do interviews with my husband, and I have even recorded my own rambling thoughts at 3 a.m. when plagued with insomnia. Basically, this house is an audio experiment. In the interest of familial harmony, I don't recommend it. To spare you your own family's scorn, I will impart some of the lessons I've learned. Most of these are probably familiar axioms, but here they are confirmed from an unlikely source: my microphone.
1. The mess doesn't matter
As soon as I get my headphones on and hit "record," I am paying attention only to voices. I am not looking at the toys on the floor, the splatter on the carpet, or the Goldfish crumbs on every known surface. You know why? Because you don't hear mess and therefore the mess doesn't matter. Someone recently told me that as his mother lay on her deathbed, she said, "I wish I hadn't worried so much about how clean everything was. It didn't matter." Podcasting confirms this.
2. You don't always sound the way you think/hope you do.
I have an image of my voice, floating through the air and landing in my childrens' ears, "Kids? Please put on your boots, darlings. I know I've told you 45 times, but please put them on." Guess what. That sentence reads smoothly, but when I speak those words in situ, it's not smooth. When I think I sound relaxed, I sound tense. When I think I sound patient, I sound tense. Basically, I often sound much more tense than the voice in my head. Playback is The Enemy. But it has taught me to take a deep breath and soften the tone.
3. Silence is golden. For real.
I feel like my kids fight a lot. In fact I tell people they fight all the time. It turns out they don't, but I focus on those moments because they are so much more wrenching. In actual fact, there is a lot of silent playing going on. And there are many kinds of silence. Nice silence. Tense silence. Building Lego side-by-side silence. (I'll leave out the silence of all of us being on our devices and ignoring each other since I want to pretend that doesn't happen in my house.) The best kind of silence is when we are just comfortable being in each other's company. As my friend Daisy always says, "When you love someone you can talk for hours. Or not talk for hours."
4. Listen to what people are actually saying.
If you close your eyes and edit out people's facial expressions, their voices often convey something more resonant -- real emotion. Spoken messages can be distorted by someone's face. We are human and so that makes sense; the face is part of the communication package. But there are also the words and sometimes I don't listen to what people are actually saying. I am busy thinking of what I will say back and nodding at their face, but not totally listening. I'm paying better attention now.
5. Kids say the darndest things.
They do. You can't stop them. And it's priceless, so it's not a bad idea to record it.
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