Sometime I think we forget to recognize the importance of everyday things in our lives. The smiles we share; kisses we give; the listening we do.
The songs we sing.
A couple of nights ago we were listening to the News from Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor, something we have started doing at bedtime as a family. The story that night was called Me and Choir, about his boys choir as a child.
**As a side note, if you are not familiar with the News from Lake Wobegon, become so, immediately. Keillor is one of the best storytellers in history. Truly amazing stuff.
Anywhoozle, The main story was not what really made an impression on me. During his build up, Keillor told of the songs his mother sang when he was a child. Tunes that she sang while she was working; warbles she sang through gritted teeth in suppressed anger; lullabies she sang at bedtime. He spoke about how they shaped his youth and, indeed how they in turn shaped his parenting. He lamented that one of her lullabies is now one of the ones he sings to his own children–“number 3 in the repertoire,” with an added verse of his own. It got me to thinking about the songs my children will remember when they grow up. The songs they may sing to their children one day.
We of course have our own repertoire that I have sung to my children since birth. It is constantly evolving. Originally it was just a few songs–Hush Little Baby, You are my Sunshine, Barges, Linger, Cruel War, and if they made it through them all, Taps. Camp songs. Songs I grew up singing every summer before bed. As they have grown I have added lots of other songs to the playlist–some classics, some gospel, some Irish songs, some Beatles. But we always started with the same six songs. They were so conditioned to fall asleep to those songs that often I continued singing long past when they fall asleep, just for the joy and comfort it brought me.
I used to sing all the time. ALL THE TIME. It drove my parents crazy. Even more than them, it drove my brother insane. He hated how I would listen to the same songs over and over and over again until I had memorized every lyric. When we still lived in the era of cassette tapes (I was one of the last people to go to CD) I think it was tolerable because I had to stop the tape and rewind it between renditions and that offered a bit of down to time in between. However, I got my first CD player in 1995 and for my brother, it was all downhill from there. Restarting songs was so easy! I could stop right in the middle and immediately start over. There was a single song repeat button! I never had to rewind again! That was when things really got unbearable in the next room over. And I couldn’t have cared less. This was my room, that was his. If I wanted to sing, well doggone it I was going to sing.
Then I went to college. I had roommates. I couldn’t sing whenever it pleased me. So I took to singing in the car. And in church. I have always loved singing in church. It is my favorite part of going. But that was where it remained, until I had kids. A captive, non-judgemental audience that I could share all my love with in the form of song.
And so it has continued for the last 6-years. Car, Church, and Captive audience, hanging on every note. Until about 9-months ago. 9-months ago two very seemingly minor things happened that have become very significant to me.
The first was a moment with my younger son.
I was lying in bed with him at bedtime. We had finished our stories and I asked the boys if they would like me to sing. As usual, they both said yes. I started into Hush Little Baby. And just as I began to sing my younger rolls over and says “Mommy, I don’t want you to sing that song.”
“Ok,” I said and I skipped ahead to You are my Sunshine. Again he interrupted.
“I don’t want you to sing that one either,” he said.
“Well, why not?” I asked
“Mommy, those are baby songs,” he answered simply. “I want you to sing the big kid songs.”
And a little part of me went dark. My boys weren’t babies anymore. They were judging my songs. Weighed, measured, found wanting.
So I skipped ahead to Moon River and everyone went to bed, me with a little tear on my cheek.
The second thing that happened was that my little brother got married. It was a truly amazing wedding. The real highlight of the evening was at the start of the reception when my new sister-in-law got up in front over everyone and sang a song to my brother. Not just any song either. The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News! Seriously?!?!? It was awesome.
I had requested a special dance with my brother to a song I had chosen, Murder in the City by the Avett Brothers (**another one you need to become familiar with, immediately.) As we were dancing and he was trying to listen to the words and I was congratulating him on his nuptials and the awesome song his wife sang, he looked down at me and said, “Why don’t you sing anymore?”
“What do you mean?” I asked “I sing. I sing in the car, I sing to the kids.” He just shrugged a little.
“You used to sing all the time,” he said. “I always liked listening to you sing.” Then he was quiet for a bit. Then he said, “Lindsay sings all the time.” We finished the dance, hugged and kissed, and the moment was over.
As we listened to the News from Lake Wobegon the other night, these two moments came back to me in a rush. It really got me thinking about how often the soundtracks to our lives go unnoticed, and yet what an impression they can make on our future selves. The songs I sing to my children will be the score to their memories of infancy and the songs I sang as a child helped shape the person my brother became as an adult and the type of people he learned to love. Whether we know it or not the songs we sing and never hear are shaping the world for the people around us, shaping our own worlds, and it is happening without any recognition at all.
My older son sings every day. All day, every day. From the time he wakes up, until the time he falls asleep. When he stops singing there is usually something wrong. It drives me absolutely bonkers, however, when he stops, the silence is almost alarming. Most of his songs have no words and often he is on everyone in the house’s last nerves, including his little brother, who unequivocally adores him. But some day the music will stop.
I try to remind myself of this in my most aggravated moments when I too am gritting my teeth and warbling angry tunes in response. There will be a day in the not too distant future where his music will only be heard through closed bedroom doors, and eventually only through the cracked window of his car. And one day he will drive away and take his music with him. I hope at that point he is still singing.
Songs are a significant part of our lives, and our lives are simply too short not to hear them.