The first time it happened, my oldest was four months old. I sang to him the one nursery rhyme I could recall by memory: Itsy Bitsy Spider.
Because that’s what moms do. I’ve read it in books, seen it on TV, and listened to more seasoned moms reflect on singing their now grown babies to sleep. I’m now a mom and this is what I should do.
He could barely sit up, but somehow he reached up and covered his ears.
I flashed back to Mr. Younce, my 5th grade music teacher, singling me out during the rehearsal for our class’s Christmas performance and asking me to not sing. At all. During the performance. To just stand there.
How, at just 4 months old, did my son know what my father and friends had been telling me for years?
Defeated I thought: but this is what moms are supposed to do. If I can’t do this, how can I give him everything a mom’s supposed to give? (a lot of irrational thoughts went through my hormonal mind as a new insecure mom.) Regardless, I honored his wishes and did not sing to him again.
Two and a half years later, when he was showing speech delays, the therapist recommended singing. Obliged I cooperated, but stuck with fail-proof songs like Wheels on the Bus – less tuney, more talky. While our nanny tackled true songs, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Eventually the boys asked me to sing the songs she sang to them. When I did, they quickly regretted their request. My two year old exclaimed, “no sing, mommy!” waving his finger at me and continuing, “you can’t sing, mommy!”
I have known for years that I can’t sing. (Doesn’t mean I don’t do it by myself in the car.) Why did I think, just because I was now a mom, I could suddenly do something I have lacked ability and talent in for years?
As I contemplated the dismissal of my singing services, my 2 year old’s clear instructions became less about my inability to sing and more about my inability to be everything for my children.
It reminded me of a college roommate’s wise beyond our years words when we were 22. I was complaining about a friend not being everything I wanted in a friend – all wrapped into one package.
Her response: One person can’t be everything to us. All friends play different roles in our lives, some smaller, some larger, some longer and some shorter, but that doesn’t tie significance to that person’s impact in our lives. (thank you, Meg. You are the perfect example. Our paths crossed momentarily, but those words have stayed with me and had such an impact on me.)
I provide a stable environment for them. I can feed them, read to them, kiss their boo boos, build forts and love them, but it’s not a mutually exclusive effort. Others can feed them, read to them, kiss their boo boos, build forts, and love them and teach them too.
It’s kind of a relief to acknowledge and accept that I can’t do everything for my kids. I’d fail myself if I tried to be everything to them. And I’d fail them because I’d be limiting their opportunities to learn, experience and grow.
Since that night, they have allowed me to sing again. Primarily only Wheels on the Bus where I focus less on my weakness of subpar singing and instead play to my strengths of silly voices, big hand gestures, and dance…well that’s not a strength either but at least it’s entertainment that doesn’t hurt their ears.
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