A musical rift between mother and daughter
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!
Do your homework now!
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.