My mother, like me, can’t sing. I mean, we really can’t sing. My little sister, bless her, can.
My mother likes to say that she had always dreamt of having children because, she figured, she could sing to them. They wouldn’t know any better. They would love her voice because it was their mothers. “On key” wouldn’t matter to these hypothetical children. Unfortunately for my mom, her actual children and her imagined differed. While she and I had two and half good years of off-key rock out parties, tuneless lullabies and not-quite-right sing-alongs, this changed with the birth of my little sister. My mother says that it only took Rachel two years to get up the gumption to cover her mouth during a serenade, “Mama. Don’t sing.”
Not that it really stopped her, though I guess it must’ve crushed her fantasy. My mom sang all through my childhood. She used to sing to me when she put me to sleep, laying next to me in my handed-down double bed. My dad sang, too. Not traditional lullabies, though. My favorite was the Little Red Caboose song (though I’ll admit that Sweet Honey in the Rock does it better). But she also sang Raffi classics and James Taylor’s greatest hits.
Those almost-lullabies, lovely as they were, aren’t the music I associate most closely with my mother. My parents, as a set, love music. They were New Wave-ers in New York before my birth, all through my childhood there were shelves and shelves of sacred alphabetized records (eventually replaced with sacred alphabetized CDs), cases of cassettes with handwritten labels. Mostly, they agree on music, but there is some that lives solely in the sphere of my mother.
Nick LoweHall and OatesPaul SimonBonnie RaitJames Taylor and Lyle Lovett. Blues-y, good hooks, a little twang. My mother used to clean our house with “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” turned up to fall volume. I remember painting at my kitchen easel while she made dinner to “Private Eyes”. We used to hold imaginary microphones and sing (off-key) to each other. I have a very clear memory of the two of us waiting for my dad to finish and errand and singing an a cappella version of “Fire and Rain”.
Eventually, as I grew up, my sister and I developed our own musical taste. My ever-accommodating parents let us pick the music in the car and we stopped paying attention to what they were listening to. But still, my mother’s music is as familiar to me as my mother. I know all of the lyrics intuitively, the way I know how to get to my elementary school or, really, how to read. I don’t remember learning these things – they’re just a part of me.
A few years back, I splurged to buy myself several CDs that reminded me of my mother. Made myself a little “Mom music” playlist in the iTunes so that I can listen to it when I clean my house, or just when I went to sing-off-key un-selfconsciously.