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Cynthia Balderman: Quiet, once craved, is now unwelcome

When I was a girl, my mother worried terribly that I was growing up to be an unsociable adult. Reading was my favorite exercise, and with determination, I set out to read every book by every author deemed important by the Ken-Ton Curriculum Committee and circulated throughout the 10th grade English class.

I read before breakfast, during breakfast and as I walked to school, my glasses growing thicker by the day, as I stumbled through class and shopping trips and meals, barely conscious of my surroundings.

If I was in the middle of a good book, I simply called myself in sick to the attendance office, using my best low-octave “mom” imitation. Having a professional mother long before society recognized that a mother could make a living and still have a family was an advantage, since the pleasant woman who answered the phone never suspected I was phoning in my own excuses.

When a classmate called to invite me to a school dance, I invariably demurred in favor of lying prone on my bed, enjoying a cotillion or a prom with a far better fictional boy than I had ever met in person. If a notice about a function came to the house, I would dispose of it before my parents came home from work because I knew my mom would invariably encourage me to attend.

Sometimes, she would rap on my closed door, yelling, “Don’t you want to come out of there and go do something?”

“Not yet,” I’d yell back. “I’m at the good part.”

Finally, in despair that I would ever learn to socialize the way she imagined American teenagers must, she, herself robbed of adolescence by the Holocaust, arranged for me to attend a dance hosted by a youth organization. As an enticement, she bought me frosted pink lipstick, and set out with my grandfather to haul my reluctant self to the basement of the local synagogue. The car sped away before I was certain I wanted to shuffle from the sidewalk to the door of the building but, out of choices, I entered.

The entire room had been decorated with yellow crepe paper flowers. I joined a group of girls, all of them milling around and peeking through their bangs at the boys, in their own groups, peeking right back at us through their own curtains of hair. Suddenly, in a fit of ardor, one of the boys jumped up on a table, grabbed a pipe cleaner stemmed flower and began swinging it in imitation of a sword fighter.

I’d had enough. I retreated to the ladies room, grabbed a paperback copy of “Love Story” out of my bag and occupied one of the stalls for the rest of the night. I could not imagine a life lived without large helpings of privacy.

My youngest child has turned 21, and stands on the threshold of his life’s adventure. For the first time since I married, three and half decades ago, my husband and I face a home devoid of children. Suddenly, I have as much quiet time as I craved as a young adult.

I still love to read. But I have become accustomed to a level of chaos that only five children can create. After years of suppressing my love of alone time, I no longer need so much of it.

Luckily, I have been rescued from the perils of quiet contemplation by my first grandchild, who brightens my life with a toss of her curls and a commanding laugh.

My mom is still right. Solitude is not a good fit for me.