My sister covered her ears and complained of the awful sound when I sang. I was only about 7 years old, but my voice as a young girl was not sweet. I could hardly carry a tune, but I loved more than anything to try.
I would sing in the shower, in the car, in my room, always evoking the same response from my elder sibling. She would dramatically cover her ears, roll her eyes, and swing her long, strawberry-blond hair over her shoulder as she walked away, mumbling about the "dreadful noise."
If the sound was truly that awful, I will never know. I only know that the desire to sing was something I felt deep in my belly.
When I was a junior in high school, I persuaded my parents to let me take private voice lessons after school. I think they considered it a wholesome extracurricular activity. I think they believed it would actually help me. I loved and hated these lessons. I recall the feeling of butterflies swarming in my stomach from the combination of nerves and excitement as I drove up the driveway to the red wooden house tucked comfortably on a wooded lot in northeast Ohio.
Each week, on the day of my lesson, I entered the house without ringing the bell. I navigated my way through the foyer and kitchen to the living room that glowed warmly in outdated hues of yellow and gold.
Even though I was extremely shy, I stood in front of a microphone beside my teacher's baby grand piano as she prompted me to belt out, at full-lung capacity, the scales I was to practice for that week.
During the lesson, we also reviewed and learned a variety of classical Latin arias. If I did not fully project my voice, my teacher had me engage in a particular exercise that involved screaming as loud as possible into the microphone.
Despite the year of voice lessons and consistent encouragement from my teacher, my ability to carry a tune never improved. A girlfriend and I were even rejected from our high school talent show after auditioning as a singing and guitar-strumming duo performing Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee."
Many years have passed, and I still sing my heart out in the car, though I always sing under my breath if I sense any other drivers or pedestrians watching. And now I have an audience that actually likes to listen. I feel grateful for my 3-year-old son in so many ways, but particularly because he seems to love to hear me sing.
I secretly always wished I could be on stage singing in front of an audience, like Bonnie Raitt, maybe, or Norah Jones. I always believed that if I sang enough, eventually someone would listen and not cover their ears.
Tonight, as usual, I read my son a few of his favorite stories before bedtime and sang him a song.
I started with John Prine's "Muhlenberg County." Although I grew up in the Midwest, I always add the Southern drawl. My son looked at me in the dim light, through the shadows cast by his nightlight, with adoration.
When I lowered my voice to be more soothing at bedtime he said, "Don't whisper, Mama."
I recalled my voice lessons, took a deep breath, and projected the words of the song from my diaphragm - loudly.
When I finished the song, my son said angelically, "One more, Mama!"
How could I resist?
I had the best audience I could ever imagine requesting an encore. My heart felt the intensity of a concert hall brimming with audience members and filled with applause.
Without hesitation I started into another old campfire favorite of mine, "On the Loose."
"On the loose to climb a mountain, on the loose where I am free...."
No matter how many times my voice faltered and cracked or swayed off key, my son looked at me with a smile and sparkling eyes, with a look of utter pleasure and relaxation.
My heart fluttered with joy, and I sang him yet another song.