Saturday, June 19, 2010

Elvis, Lullabies and Magic

When I was in the 5th grade, I tried out for the school choir.  I was new to Alta Loma Elementary School and had to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to a few of the upper-grade teachers.  I remember sitting across from these teachers at a green picnic table, its paint chipped and peeling, outside the classrooms.  And I remember using a falsely-soprano voice to sing the song.  I guess I assumed that was what they wanted a girl to sound like.  I didn't make the choir.

The next year, I tried out for choir again.  This time, as I sat across from the now-familiar teachers at the same picnic table, I decided to sing in my real voice.  I made the choir and was convinced this was a lesson in being true to one's self in order to get what you really want.  However, my mom's reaction when I told her I made it was, "Of course! Now the teachers know how smart and good you are, so they want you to be in the choir no matter how you sing."  Reputation, not skill, was my saving grace in her opinion.  She was probably right.  When I prepared a duet for the Christmas performance with a friend of mine, the peer who was accompanying us on the piano nearly quit when I couldn't perform to his standards.  Apparently, we took this stuff pretty seriously back then.

Singing has always been a skill I have envied and desired.  I have made peace my lacking in this particular talent.  I often tell my students, "We each have our  own gifts" and I realize singing is not mine.  So, I am taken aback when someone compliments my voice. In fact, I can remember very clearly the few times this has happened.  Once was on the summer of 1991.  I had turned 18 and was celebrating with an evening in Beverly Hills with a few of my closest friends.  We went to the Hard Rock Cafe, the Beverly Center, and then my favorite restaurant ever, Ed Debevic's, for dessert.  We had all squished into my mom's Ford Taurus and my friend J. was driving.  On the way home, almost everyone else had fallen asleep.  We were listening to the oldies station (which may have contributed to their slumber) and an Elvis song came on.  (BTW, the pic above has no connection other than the fact that this peanut is dressed up like Elvis. It is located in the Visitor's Center in Dothan, Alabama and the boys loved it, even though they do not know who Elvis is.)

I began singing along and J. said, "You have a really nice singing voice."   Of course, this was much like the choir story.  I am sure it was not the quality of my voice, but the quality of my character that allowed my friend to enjoy my voice. Or maybe he was hearing more Elvis than me. Either way, the truth is, I had an incredible crush on J. so the fact that he was complimenting me on something I felt was less-than-good about myself made it an even sweeter moment.

Not nearly as sweet, though, as the moment I had yesterday.  As I have shared, the boys and I are reading James and the Giant Peach together each night.  On Thursday, we read the chapters with the Cloud-Men who attack the peach with hailstones.  When I finished, my oldest son Michael asked me to sing them a lullaby because the story had scared him a bit.  I started to launch into "You are My Sunshine" which is a favorite of mine, but he stopped me and said, "No, the one about us."  He was referring to a lullaby I made up when he was only hours old.  As I held him in my arms, just the two of us in the hospital room, I couldn't help but sing to him.  The song just came to me and over the years, many times, all three boys have had it sung to them, with their names in place of Michael's.  The song's lyrics are:

Michael, our little angel,
Sent from the Father up above.
Michael, our little angel,
we will share with you a world full of love.

You're our happiness
You're our joy
You're our beautiful baby boy
And we know that you're a gift
So up to the Lord we lift

Our baby Michael
Precious Angel
Sent from the Father up above.

I finished the song, we said our payers, and I kissed the boys good-night.  The next morning over breakfast, Michael said, "Mom, did you know that every time you sing that song to us, I don't have nightmares."  And then, he exclaimed, "When you sing, it's magical!" My heart nearly leapt from my chest with joy!  Then, reality check -- my son likes me, so his compliment shouldn't necessarily be considered accurate, right?

Then I remembered the letter.
When my father lived in another state to find work, he sent me a letter.  I was in the fourth grade.  My dad was always embarrassed about his writing, always commented on how he couldn't spell or punctuate correctly.  In fact he often had me proofread what he wrote so that I could fix any errors.  To my dad, his writing was a weakness, but to me -- holding that letter in my fourth-grade hands, missing him with my fourth-grade heart -- his writing was magical.

Michael was right. It is magical that the thing I always thought I was bad at has the power to take my sons safely into dreamland.  Through our children, we are given the amazing gift of seeing ourselves through new eyes,  eyes that love us without question. Because of that, our flaws, our weaknesses, the things we often try to hide, are the very things that our children adore.  And if that isn't magic, what is?

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