Now that I’m here, standing firmly at the top of Middle Age, I embarrass my son when I sing. I’ve heard famous parents…renowned for their musical talent…it’s what made them famous…say that their children are also embarrassed of THEM when they sing, so I mean…I get it. Parents are just inherently embarrassing once they are and you are so old. Even if they’re recognized worldwide as being a great singer, if you’re their kid, they are still Mom or Dad and you don’t wanna hear it. And I’m sure not a great singer. No one would ever confuse me for Whitney Houston or Amy Winehouse or Idina Menzel.
I don’t now, nor would I ever sing in front of The Boy’s friends or out in public somewhere. I never have been a person to showcase my voice, speaking or especially singing, to other people. But even when it’s just the two of us hanging around the house, being relaxed and silly, I still get, ‘UGH! Mom! Don’t sing!’ This is the most common offender of triggering me to sing, and it’s by far The Boy’s least favorite.
When we were at Disneyland, it took me some active persuasion to get J and The Boy (mostly because of The Boy’s protesting) to ride The Little Mermaid ride with me. Finally, I got, ‘FINE. But DON’T sing, Mom.’
I know this is a normal reaction from a kid The Boy’s age to his parents who are my age, particularly when we are singing along to ‘old’ music…music that’s not his favorite anyway. And I’m the kind of person who wants everyone around me to be comfortable and happy all the time, and I will naturally be super accommodating to what other people want as long as I don’t have a moral objection to it. You don’t like mushrooms? No problem. I like them, but we don’t need to get those on the pizza. You don’t like Ben Folds? No problem. He’s one of my favorite musicians, but I like a lot of Guns N Roses songs too, so we can listen to that album on the long car ride. You don’t like cooking shows? No problem. We can watch the car race or cartoons or the baseball game or the DVR episodes of that creepy serial killer show you need to catch up on…I can read a book if I get bored or scared. ‘Don’t sing, Mom!’ used to not bother me at all. Because I get where he’s coming from and because I don’t want to be the reason someone else is bothered.
But now? It does bother me.
When I was young, people regularly stamped down my enthusiasm and excitement about things that weren’t hurting them and weren’t hurting me fairly regularly, because it just wasn’t something they wanted to see or hear or hear about at the time. My joy was inconvenient to them. It wasn’t dangerous. It wasn’t even really uncomfortable. It was just that something they couldn’t articulate made them not want to see me happy at that time and/or about whatever that was. The Boy’s normal preteen reaction to my singing as his 40 something mom is not even close to the first time in my life I’ve heard, ‘Don’t sing.’ Sometimes I heard those exact words as a child. Sometimes ‘don’t sing’ just came in other forms.
“Those are boys’ shorts; those aren’t for you.”
“Why is this boy calling you?”
“You want to buy THAT CD?…You want to paint your room WHAT color?…You’re gonna wear THAT?…You want to rent THAT movie again?”
“You can’t go to <cool place> (or) <social event> (or sometimes even) <academic opportunity>.”
“You can’t have a dog.”
“Stop wasting time with your nose in that book/ watching that/ listening to music/ on the computer/ scribbling in that notebook/ on the phone with your friend…”
“Come in from outside.”
“Get out of that pool.”
“You’ve had enough pizza/popcorn/Coke/cookies/whatever.”
“Why do you want to <fill in whatever here> anyway?”
The answer to that last question was almost always as simple as, ‘Because I think it will make me happy/it does make me happy/just even imagining doing it makes me happy.’ But that was never a good enough answer for the question asker (who was nearly always my mom). I learned pretty thoroughly as a kid that my joy did not matter. Joy was frivolous. Joy was something lazy idiots had when they should have been working harder at something that doesn’t bring anybody unfiltered joy like doing taxes or scrubbing toilets.
“I don’t know why anybody <plays/watches sports; plays an instrument; paints their nails; gets a tattoo; buys tickets to see live performance of any kind like plays or musical concerts or art exhibits; makes art; gets a pet; wears bright colors or accessories; etc.>”
I mean, for real? My mom has said all of these things to me. To her, the impracticality of all of this stuff negates any kind of value it has in life. She is extraordinarily utilitarian. The desire for doing anything or going anywhere for the sake of joy, to my mom, has always been something any person should feel guilty about. Joy, to her, (at least my joy, but really…everybody’s) is selfish.
But I don’t think it is. I think when people get to express their joy, it spreads to other people. And I don’t see how that can be a bad thing. When I feel joyful, I tend to be more openly kind. Being kind is easier…I don’t have to make a concerted effort to be kind when I’m already feeling joyful. And maybe that works the same way for other people (I’m guessing it does). So being free to possess and share joy, to me, is…good.
I know The Boy’s intentions are not the same as my mom’s when he tells me not to sing. He’s not like that. He likes joy for joy’s sake. He likes cuddling stuffed animals and playing the piano and video games and hiking nature trails and riding roller coasters. None of those things have any practical ‘use,’ and he doesn’t feel guilty about them. And he shouldn’t. They bring him joy. But even though I know he doesn’t mean it ‘that way’ when he says, ‘Mom! Don’t sing!’ I’m probably going to sing anyway now.