Kids Today

Things That Go Fifff Striiik Bam! in the Night

The day you become a parent, your sonic world expands to include hundreds of new sounds to amaze, annoy, and terrify. A field report of 14 alarms and ambient textures.

Aaron Ruell, "Bear Girl," 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

On becoming a parent, you open your life to a new spectrum of sounds. Waaaa, goes the baby. Suck-suck-suck, it goes. It farts and belches and pukes.

Time passes, and the baby grows into a child. Children bring with them a spectrum of their own, a soundboard of noises to make a parent’s hair stand on end, to cause a lump in the throat, to leave moms and dads shivering with that weird mixture of dread and devotion that every parent experiences when a child approaches, covered in soil, and asks: “Do you want to see what I just found in the garden?”

These, then, are the sounds you’ll hear as your child grows older. No matter how far you bury your head under the duvet.


This is the sound of an egg being smuggled into the child’s bed, then jumped upon and mashed into the bedclothes. The final “YAY” is the child’s expression of joy and delight at discovering a new way to do eggs.



You never noticed that your bedroom door slid noisily over the carpet, but that’s because you open it at normal speed, not in movie-style slow-mo. The kids open it slowly, very early on a Saturday morning, so they can make sure you are still fast asleep before they enter the room demanding hugs, TV, breakfast, and candy.



Make a note of this sound. This is the sound made when your child opens a car door from the inside for the first time, and slams into the bodywork of the adjacent car in the parking lot. You may wish to drive away swiftly shortly thereafter.



The telltale dripping of an overflowing bathtub, followed by the catastrophic flood of water all over the bathroom floor. In most cases, it isn’t even the kids’ bath time; they just wanted to play submarines with your iPod.



Lego, underfoot. You will never be forgiven for breaking it.



The sound made by your child’s frisbee as it flies gracefully across the kitchen and hits that priceless crystal vase your mother-in-law gave you. A good noise, unless suffixed by a telltale KRRRYSSSSH as the vase wobbles just that tiny bit too far, and falls to the tiled floor.



Your child dragging a plastic toy along metal railings.


EEEeeeEEEeeeEEEeee-ddddm (silence) EEEeeeEEEeeeEEEeee-ddddm

This is the sound of your front door being opened slowly, a few inches at a time, as your child decides to see what the weather is like or what the rest of the street is up to at 5 a.m. on a foggy winter’s morning.


Chi-i-chi-i-chi-i-WAIT MAKE IT STOP ARRRGH-kkktttang

What starts as the joyful sound of your child’s first unassisted bicycle ride soon turns to disaster when you realize that you forgot to teach junior how to use the brakes, and both cycle and rider are heading directly for a brick wall.



Your child and a visiting friend conspiring in not-quite-quiet-enough whispers, just around the corner from where you’re sitting. They’ll be planning when, where, and how to leap upon you, but you’ll only catch two out of those three.


Snaffle-faffle striiik-fffff-crssssh-YESSS!

This is the sound of a 14-year-old setting fire to an old pair of trainers.



Pet owners, beware: Many small children fail to see any moral impediment to using your dog as a target for Nerf bullets.



Your biscuit tin or cookie jar, rolling down the stairs and unleashing its contents in a gigantic crumby shower all over the hallway.


(Total silence)

An extremely worrying sound. So unnatural is silence in a household containing children that it will cause you to succumb to instant panic. If there is no noise, it means the children must be in unimaginable peril. On noticing the silence you will drop whatever it is you’re doing and run to locate its non-source. With luck, you’ll find one or more children flaked out on the floor, fast asleep. Without it, you’ll discover them mashing eggs into the bedding or trying their own nuclear fusion experiment using half a lemon, a knitting needle, and a dead spider.

Which makes a hell of a lot more noise than you might think.