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Posted on Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 3:11 p.m.

A musical rift between mother and daughter

By Heather Heath Chapman

I’ll just say it: I’m a pretty good singer. Not too bad, anyway. Definitely not terrible. I sing a lot, and I like to narrate my everyday activities through song, especially when I’m working in the kitchen.

Some people find me pretty darned entertaining. Well, okay—three people find me entertaining, and I am one of those three.

My 11-year-old daughter is not.

About one quarter of the communication between us is my singing and her begging me not to sing.

Or, her heavy sighs when I do sing.

Or, her intense eye contact when friends are around, which I am meant to interpret as, “Mother, if you truly love me, you will not sing.”

But she just doesn’t understand.

In my fantasy life, I sing backup for legendary folk rocker James Taylor.

Picture it: A summer concert tour. An outdoor amphitheater. I am in excellent voice tonight. When the band gears up for “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You),” James Taylor looks over and gives me a lanky wave, as if to say, “Heather Heath Chapman, you are the best backup singer of all time.”

See what I mean? Cool, right?

My daughter does not think so.

Nor does she appreciate the lyrics I like to ad-lib while I’m putting away dishes or pounding raw chicken. I’m not sure what she’s complaining about, because I cover lots of the popular songs that kids are enjoying these days. For example:

(Written while preparing dinner. Sung to the tune of Hannah Montana’s “Best of Both Worlds.”)

I’ve made the WORST
Must have used too much cheese,
Hand me a trash bag, please

Not long after I crafted that little ditty, my daughter began her Hannah Montana boycott.

And she’s equally nonplussed by my versions of classic rock songs. For instance, this one—composed during scheduling negotiations—elicited a weary eye roll from her just days ago.

(Sung to the tune of “Love the One You’re With,” by Stephen Stills. Lyrics in parentheses are optional.)

If you can’t beeeeeeeee
With your best friend Izzy,
Do your homework now!
(Get down.)
Do your homework now!
(Get funky.)
Do your homework now!

“Mom!” my daughter finally protested, but no way was I stopping before the doo-doo-doo’s. I finished up with a “good God, ya’ll” and then grinned around at the room, panting a little.

My daughter’s reaction: First the eye roll, then a slump of the shoulders, then a small groan of resignation. She knew she’d never break through my wall of sound.

I felt somewhat underappreciated at that moment. For one thing, I’d just busted out a new hand jive, and it had gone largely ignored. For another, it occurred to me that my daughter wasn’t joking around. She actually did not like my singing. And that would explain the disparaging words she was always using to describe my singing—among them, “way too loud,” “a little embarrassing” and “just not good.”

Really, though—here’s the part that’s not fair—she was the one who brought me to this. I know she doesn’t remember, but it’s true.

My sing-all-day habit started a few months after she was born, when we moved from a cozy college town to a big city. The move left me feeling lonely. There was concrete everywhere, my husband was working long hours, and my best friend was the baby.

Having a best friend who can’t talk has its ups and downs. Having a best friend who cries a lot is mostly just a downer. To fill the silences and to silence the baby’s screams, I sang. It seemed slightly less nuts than carrying on a one-sided conversation, and eventually it became second nature.

Instead of talking my way through a diaper change, I would sing it, often to the tune of “I’m Walking on Sunshine,” by Katrina and the Waves. (“I’m cleaning up poop now/Oh-oh/And don’t it smell gross!”)

When the baby woke up from a nap, I would greet her with the Beatles’ “Good Morning Good Morning.”

If a day seemed very long, I would haul out the “Halleluiah Chorus.” (Instead of “HA-lleluiah,” I’d sing, “WHERE’S your father?”)

And so I sang myself right into the tween years.

Silly songs are still the threads that tie my days together. But, thinking back to my daughter’s serious baby face and bald baby head, I realized what she was trying communicate now, with her recently perfected eye roll.

“Mom, I’m not a baby anymore.”

In the back of my mind, violins played a wordless ode to brokenhearted mothers everywhere.

Later, when I walked past her door, I heard that she was playing a new song on her iPod speakers—pretty lyrics, energetic beat, youthful voices. I stuck a toe into her room, ready to boogie. But then, in a moment of uncharacteristic restraint, I paused on the threshold and listened. As much as I wanted to, I would not dance in there and acquire this song. I would not turn it into a musical lesson about homework or messy sock drawers.

This song was hers.

And downstairs, in the kitchen, legendary folk rocker James Taylor was waiting for me.

In memory of my aunt, Kay Fairchild—a funny and talented lyricist.

Heather Heath Chapman is a writer and a mother of two. Her next online post will appear on Thursday, February 4.


Heidi Hess Saxton

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 8:10 p.m.

Heather: I laughed as I read this -- I thought I was the only one who did that!!! I think we ought to form a band... the Unhip Chicks. (I get Air Keyboards.)

Angela Smith

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 7:42 p.m.

umm, maybe we can start a support group for moms who sing and kids who can't stand it. if not that, at least a lyric exchange program, these are great!!


Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 7:05 p.m.

Keep on singing! My Dad couldn't carry a tune if it had a handle, yet he sang with gusto-- all the time. It bothered my sisters and me and amused our friends to no end. Soon after I left home for college, I found that I sang all the time too (maybe to fill the void). Now I sing to my wife, daughters, or myself-- silly or serious. My tweener rolls her eyes and my youngest joins right in. But the other day my tweener came home very excited that her piano teacher gave her a song that I always sang-- so maybe it isn't so bad.


Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 12:53 p.m.

@Paula Ronnie James Dio?really? WOW!your husband must REALLY love you

Paula Gardner

Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 12:08 p.m.

I can't sing at all, but love to belt out songs with "customized" lyrics for the kids. Sometimes they join me.... But I've also been ordered by my 9 year old to give it up. My favorite is when I get a little operatic. But that's when my husband accuses me of channeling Ronnie James Dio. And then he explains bad hair metal to the kids. OUCH

Tammy Mayrend

Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 10:23 a.m.

I sing everyday things as well, and now find it funny that both children have picked up the "habit"!!!


Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 9:30 a.m.

Yikes, James Taylor? I would be embarrassed too and I'm 50 years old! lol

Ann Arbor mom

Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 9:14 a.m.

If Aunt Kay was anything like you, she could really belt out a tune. For me, I tend to spend my days doing little rhyming jigs which sends my 5 year old in peals of laughter. I only have a few more years until the "eye roll" starts.....


Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 6:25 a.m.

My mother liked to whistle and as a tween/teen that struck me as the most embarassing thing in the world for her to do. As an adult, I would give anything to have my mother alive and whistling again. So you keep right on singing!

Scott Beal

Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 1:04 a.m.

This is really splendid. It makes me happy and it makes me sad. ("Having a best friend who cries a lot is mostly just a downer." Yeah. And Ouch.) If I had a nickel for every time my daughters have asked me to please stop singing whatever song I've just made up for their benefit... well, I'd have some nickels, that's for sure.

Spencer Thomas

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 10:45 p.m.

And what a counterpoint the first two comments make!!


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 4:42 p.m.

I truly feel for your daughter


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 1:18 p.m.

How sweet THIS is - what a lovely tribute.