When I was three years old, I took singing lessons. I have very vague recollections of the sessions, at the home of a woman named Penny. I also have a few blurry memories of the end-of-the-year concert, when during a lull I grabbed the microphone and treated the audience to a rousing rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. I actually don’t remember the song itself – my mother filled in that detail for me – but I do remember seeing the microphone and thinking that someone ought to be singing into it. Being nothing if not a perpetual volunteer, I happily stepped up and gave it my all.
Through preschool and elementary school and Girl Guides, through mornings in the shower and afternoons driving home in the car, through high school choirs and Sundays spent in church, I have been singing for as long as I can remember. When I’m sad, I sing sad songs. When I’m cleaning, I sing upbeat songs to keep me going. When I’m bored, I sing long songs, trying to remember all the words, as a way to pass the time. When I want my children to do something, I make up songs and sing them. My peers may think of Club Med when they hear “Hands Up”, but my children are more familiar with my made-up lyrics for when it’s time to get undressed. Hands up! Baby, hands up! Take off your shirt, take off, take off your shirt!
There’s something about singing that can completely turn my mood around. There’s actually research to explain this. Singing releases endorphins, lowers your blood pressure, exercises your lungs and improves posture. Singing, it seems, is good for you. And singing with a group may be even better. It’s not surprising, then, that belting out a Christmas carol in the car lifts my spirit in a way few other things can.
At this time of year, I find myself singing more than at any other. There are so many songs that are reserved just for the Christmas season. As I sing, I remember poring over the Christmas carol song sheets that came in the newspaper when I was a child. I remember memorizing all three verses of “Silent Night”. I remember singing certain songs – my favourites – over and over. I can see myself, at eight years old, sitting curled up on the couch for hours, immersing myself in the music of the season, singing songs that countless people before me have sung. There is something timeless and evocative about Christmas music for me, and I drink it up like it’s water and I’m dying of thirst.
There’s a fly in my musical ointment, though. Its name is my children. When I sing along to a song at top volume, they complain. When I join them in a song they’re singing, they’re offended. When I opt for music I enjoy over music they enjoy, there is strife. My singing is being stifled. My music is being trampled on. Once again, in parenting, I am forced to sacrifice something I love in the name of family harmony. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I ignore the complaints, and sing anyway. But it’s just not as satisfying when my audience is less-than-receptive. All of those positive benefits that are supposed to come from singing don’t feel as strong when I’m faced with criticism.
Even as my singing is stifled, however, I take hope. My children may not always appreciate my singing, but they love to sing themselves. Right now Jacob is taking music lessons and Hannah is in a musical theatre class. They sing at school, they sing in their classes, and sometimes they even sing together. As the big sister, Hannah takes the lead, patiently teaching her younger brother the words to songs. While they set the table, or colour, or walk to school, they sing. As they do, I can see how their faces change, and how their posture shifts. They’re feeling that magical feeling that comes with pushing sound out of your lungs, your whole being absorbed by the music. If they’re too busy indulging themselves to indulge their mother, well, that’s probably as it should be.
I sing. Even when my children object, I still sing. I sing old TV jingles. I sing the Christmas carols I memorized as a child. I sing pop songs and hymns and choral music. I make up words and dance along. I don’t do it because I think I’m the best singer, or because someone else has asked me to. I do it for myself, to feel that feeling that nothing else can give me. That feeling of existing on the level of sound, my whole being focused on a note. Just one note at a time, all strung together to make something else entirely. Something that reminds me of who I am, and makes me feel utterly and completely alive. I love it.
Do you sing? And do your children complain when you do? I’d love to hear!