My eldest daughter, Bethany, made me a playlist.
This may seem like a silly little thing, but the meaning for me is so deep, vast, and layered that just thinking about it makes me breathless.
I am in the nursery holding newborn Bethany, rocking and singing “So This is Love” from Cinderella. Even in my postpartum-addled state, I recognize I’m singing my baby daughter a love song originally performed by a woman dancing with a man at a ball. Yet the words have never seemed more true: “So this is love. So this is love. This is what makes life divine. I’m all aglow, and now I know, the key to all heaven is mine. My heart has wings, and I can fly. I’ll touch every star in the sky. So this is the miracle that I’d been dreaming of. Mmm hmmm mmm mmmm, so this is love.”
I am sitting with five-month-old Bethany on a red rug in a room of a house off a local country road. I am emotionally, psychologically, and physically lost in motherhood. I have been with this little person for over six months, as she was born in November and the pediatricians told me to keep her in through flu season if possible. Yet being alone in the house, paying attention to her for 12 hours a day, is driving me insane. So I joined a Kindermusik class, and now I’m talking to about ten other moms at different degrees acclimation to their mommyhood. Some are new, like me. Some are old hats, this being their third or fourth child. The teacher, Mrs. Aimee, comes into the room and starts playing a song. “Peek-a-boo, Peek-a-boo, I love you!” we sing as we play with our babies. Singing, rocking, holding, the hour flies by. I take home a CD, a little reflection diary, and everything I have learned in class that day. My husband comes home to see me on my back on the playroom floor singing and playing airplane with our giggling daughter. “Good class?” he asks. I just smile and keep singing.
This will not stand. Bethany is almost three, and I have just arrived home from a Gymboree class where we sang “We Want Jimbo,” to summon the baby clown puppet who only comes out at the end of music class. The tune, however, was Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” I am not going to allow this to be my child’s first exposure to the grandeur of Freddy Mercury. So I go to the computer and pull up my Queen playlist. We spend the next hour listening to everything from “We Are the Champions,” to “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” while I make lunch for us. We dance through our afternoon before I put Bethany in her crib for her nap. Pregnant with my younger child, that afternoon, I nap too.
Bethany is in 4th grade. We are on a Disney cruise. We’ve just come from dinner and karaoke, and we’re waiting for the evening live musical to start. A woman in the row behind me taps my shoulder. “I heard your daughter at karaoke,” she says. I smile and nod. “She’s got amazing potential.” I laugh, but she’s persistent. “Listen, I know this is odd, and you don’t know me, and I’m not trying to drum up business for myself because I doubt we live close to each other, but I’m a voice teacher and I’m telling you–for a girl her age, if she gets training, that voice will be unstoppable. Try to get her some lessons.” I thank the woman and look at Bethany. “Would you like voice lessons?” I ask. “I would love them!” she responds.
I’m sitting on a brown leather couch in a beautiful country home. Bethany is in a room behind me, behind a door with glass panes, with Mrs. Aimee–the same music teacher with whom we’d taken Kindermusik classes all those years ago. She sings “Part of Your World,” from The Little Mermaid, and I hear her teacher suggest she sing something a little more challenging. When they’re done, Ms. Aimee puts her arm around Bethany and says, “The woman you met was right. She has a great voice. If she enjoys this, I think she could be really good.”
Bethany comes onstage as Dorothy in her middle school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. I have seen her working, rehearsing, and learning for weeks now. This is my husband’s first time seeing her dressed and performing as Dorothy. When she sings “Over the Rainbow,” I hear him gasp. I hear someone in the audience quietly say, “Wow, she’s good.” I hear someone else say, “She could be Judy Garland.” I wait. The show goes off without a hitch. My husband and I go backstage and he pulls her into the biggest hug. “I knew you were an incredible singer,” he says, “but I was honestly worried because this show was . . . a lot. But you didn’t miss a beat. I am so proud of you.” Bethany hugs him and just smiles at me.
A year later, Bethany comes onstage in her first high school musical. She’s a freshman, and she’s playing Grizabella the Glamour Cat in Cats. She has been incredibly stressed about this, to the point of breaking down, and all I want is for this to go well so that she can get some of her confidence back. Because I’ve gone through the lyrics with her so often, I notice when she sings some of the wrong words in the stanzas. No one else does. No one even cares. When she’s done, they give her a standing ovation. She barely bows before she fades to the back of the crowd. She wants to sing. She wants the music. She doesn’t want the attention.
It’s Bethany’s 16th birthday, but she doesn’t want a big party. So we decide to invite a few of her friends for dinner and . . . something. But what? We can’t find a movie she wants to see, and the show playing in our local theater is not appealing. But the smaller theater is hosting The Simon and Garfunkel Story. She has been studying music theory and harmony lately, and we take her and her friends to that show. Eight teenagers emerge from the theater that night singing “The Boxer.” Bethany listens to Simon and Garfunkel through the long, pandemic summer.
Bethany is a junior in high school, and has been told she’s being featured in this year’s student showcase. She’s picking songs to sing. I’m making suggestions, as is her dad, and my mom. “I’ve been talking this over with Mrs. Aimee,” she says. “I know what I’m singing. I’ve got my list. It’s all good.” I nod. She has chosen her songs. This is her showcase. She knows more about what’s suitable for her voice than any of us do. She may even know more about music in general than any of us do. She has come a long way from that little girl who sat on my lap while I taught her about Queen and Freddie Mercury.
I’m sitting on my sitting room couch, feeling incredibly sad. The pandemic has been hard. Since March, I’ve been praying non-stop and listening to only Christian rock songs. I’ve needed the message that it’s all going to somehow be okay. The grandparents have been vaccinated and I should be feeling good now, but I’m not. Bethany sits down with me. “Mom, you’ve been in a prayer bubble for almost a year now, and you seem a little . . . detached from the world. So I made you a playlist of music I thought you might like. You know–new music. Nothing crazy. Just stuff I like. I thought you might want to listen.”
My daughter made me a playlist. I’m listening to it now. I don’t know that I’ll ever stop.