“It’s just you and me kiddo,” I say. She climbs into the front seat and smiles wanly.
“Hi, Mom. Can we go to Starbucks?
I smile back and say yes. The grocery store can wait. She’ll be 13 in a few weeks, and lately I have a sharp sense of urgency around the time we spend together. Frappuccinos it is.
She’s flipping through SiriusXM heading for Hits 1, the all-pop-all-the-time station, when she lands on 80s on 8. I barely catch the opening drum machine notes of the song when she clicks to the next station.
“Wait! Go back!” I say.
It’s Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” I crank up the volume and the funky, post-disco beat vibrates through the steering wheel. My whole upper body starts bopping as I belt out the first line with gusto and authority. When the radio plays a song that I love and know every word to, I can’t help but open wide and sing it like a rock star.
This wasn’t always the case.
I lost my voice in the backseat of a 1980 mustard yellow Toyota wagon. I was 11 years old, right on the verge of a teenage awkwardness I didn’t know was coming, one that would soon keep me from raising my hand in class and make me embarrassed to wear a bathing suit. My red terry cloth shorty shorts barely covered my butt as I shimmied in the back seat singing along to Eddie Rabbitt’s “Love a Rainy Night.” Just as I was about to belt out the chorus, my mom said, “Can you please stop singing?”
Now, as a mom myself who’s often driving a posse of loud kids, I completely understand the need to hush everyone up just to avoid running into the car in front of me or keep from missing my turn. But as a gangly tween girl, I thought my mom told me to be quiet because I had a less than lovely voice. I decided to refrain from future public musical abandonment, and my natural shyness coupled with the unwieldy hormonal shifts of puberty made my decision seem like a wise one.
In junior high, when I was forced to join the chorus because they didn’t have enough altos, I stood in the back and lip-synched. In high school, when someone cued up “Roxanne” at a party and the inevitable sing-a-long burst forth, I’d stuff my mouth with potato chips or sit quietly apart. In college, I might have sung out loud, but I was also probably drunk along with everyone else, and you can’t exactly butcher the Violent Femmes. Even when I was pregnant and all the parenting books praised the benefits of singing to the baby in utero, I just couldn’t.
I want to say there was “a moment” when everything changed and I finally found my voice again, but really, there were many moments. Some I ached for, like when my soon-to-be-husband and I broke out into a duet of “Killer Queen” and another stitch pulled tight in the fabric of our love. Some were unexpected, like discovering that my singing voice had the power to soothe my restless firstborn and my frayed, new mama heart. Still others were hard won, like when I summoned the courage to perform onstage with an awesome group of moms from my daughters’ school last year.
This, now, in the car, is another moment. My heart pounds with the thrill of it as I jut out my elbows and snake my head from side to side—all the while operating a moving vehicle—in what my girlfriends and I refer to as The Car Dance. I’m heading into the first round of “Too high to get over” when I glance quickly at Ella. She’s looking at me with exaggerated amusement and a dash of embarrassment. It’s one of her typical teen looks, but it doesn’t fool me.
“C’mon! I know you know the words!” I holler-sing at her. She rolls her eyes.
Just when I think she’s gonna leave me hanging, she breaks out into a huge grin and into the next verse with me, arms waving, booty shimmying, her golden hair flying. There’s a light in this girl when she sings that she can’t stop from shining, even if she tried—and there’s no way I ever will. Her voice is loud and strong and full of possibility. I hope she never loses it.
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.