At The Root Of Things

The daily traffic of our lives creates a pounding backbeat: slamming doors and chatter of carpool; frantic search for tights without runs; the “right” colored leotard; both ballet shoes.

“But Mama, Joy’s old shoes don’t fit me anymore!” Emma tells me now. Sigh. Stop for dance shoes means no snack or rest before class.

“If we stop, you need to cooperate getting dressed in the car.  No fussing. No whining, understand?”

“Yes, Mama.” The sing-song promise.

The pace crescendos. Screech to the strip-mall. Shove feet into shoes.

Arrive at dance and park.

I climb in back to get her dressed. The fight begins.

“I don’t want to!”

“Tights on the right leg!”

“Ow! You’re hurting me!”

“Turn around!”

“No, I can’t. I’m hungry.”


Finally done, I collapse into the front seat. She’s in back of the van. Teacher’s late. Of course.

“Can we listen to Song of Bernadette?” her suddenly sweet voice asks. How can I say no?

From the speakers, the soothing warble of Aaron Neville slows my breath. “There was a child named Bernadette.  I heard the story long ago. . .” In that instant, I’m no longer thinking of dance shoes or tights or the coil of anger in my chest that’s slowly unwinding. I’m transported to the many nights I sang this song to her and her older sister—back to the time I rocked them in my arms to stop their crying.

For a moment, I’m delivered from all the times she cried until I was hoarse from singing to her in the car, while pushing the baby-jogger, at naptime, and through the night; her first word at nine months, “E-e-o !” (oatmeal), with fist pounding on her highchair until it arrived; the constant refrains of “Mama-hold-you!” with fleshy arms always reaching for my neck; how I never thought I’d be a good enough mother for her because she needed so much more than I could give or even imagine how to provide.

Instead, I’m remembering her requesting this song at bedtime as I ran my hands through her blond curls after she turned three, nothing but peach fuzz until then.

She saw the Queen of Heaven once and kept the vision in her soul.  No one believed what she had seen; no one believed what she heard. . .”  I hear my voice begin to rise in my chest now, and hers joining in, as I recall dancing with her father at our wedding.

She and I sing together strongly now—both altos—matching the pitch, though not the flawless voice on the CD, “That there are sorrows to be healed, and mercy, mercy in this world.” Though I can’t see her, there’s a palpable change in the atmosphere between the front and back seats. The cacophany of zagged threads—like electrical current—tugged and pulled back and forth, now vanish. Uncharged naked air flows between us, weaving harmony that’s been waiting underneath, like when Linda Ronstandt joins Neville on the second refrain. Gone is any dissonance, the resistance that punctuates our daily rhythm. For a moment, as we let the music move through us, we let go.

The dance teacher pulls into the parking lot.  Normally, I would bark for her to hurry now, to run to class, not forget her bag.  Instead, enchanted by the musical bond we’re sharing, I just keep singing as I open the sliding van door. She grabs her bag, walks around to my driver’s window and stands tippy-toe on the sidewalk, looking me in the eye for the first time since we fought.  Still singing, not quite nose to nose with me, we create a space where nothing is waiting.

So many hearts I find, broke like yours and mine, torn by what I’ve done and can’t undo. . .” We sing on, tears swelling in both our eyes, gaze locked.  “I just want to hold you, won’t you let me hold you, like Bernadette would do?”

But with this child, then six years old, even holding her has never been enough.  With this daughter, I need miraculous musical moments to break the spell.

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