Al­ways be my baby

Maryland Independent - - Classified -

I’ve spent a life­time nearly shat­ter­ing the eardrums of those around me — and yet, I sing.

My voice couldn’t be scratchier if it were baked in the desert for a year, but that’s no longer a source of em­bar­rass­ment. Decades af­ter be­ing ousted from cho­rus classes, I take a gulp of air and let out my in­ner diva. She’s brash and only marginally tal­ented, but she aims to en­ter­tain.

As my sis­ter would tell you, I have quite the rep­u­ta­tion for my en­er­getic — but tone-deaf — per­for­mances. A mod­ern Florence Foster Jenk­ins, say, with an Old Bay twist.

On a fam­ily road trip in the ’90s, Katie and I al­ter­nated be­tween play­ing “spot the blue car”-type games, col­or­ing and read­ing around the South­west. When we tired of that, I pulled on my head­phones and zoned out like the teenager I’d soon be­come. My cas­sette player held one of my prized pos­ses­sions: Mariah Carey’s “Day­dream,” the 1995 al­bum that be­came the sound­track of that sum­mer.

I have a se­ri­ous soft spot for “Al­ways Be My Baby,” a tale of first love that trans­ports me back to Wal­dorf’s old skate rink. Mariah crooned as the sub­ject of my fifth­grade af­fec­tion, Matt, in­vited a pe­tite class­mate with frosted hair to join him for cou­ples skate. Like the sad sack in ev­ery ro­man­tic com­edy, I watched chin-in-hand from the side­lines.

That may have been the first time I was passed over for a blonde, but it wouldn’t be the last.

This mo­ment was good for some­thing, though: it in­spired one of my ear­li­est ex­per­i­ments with fic­tion. In my pur­ple Min­nie Mouse di­ary, I spun a tale so out­landish that 31-year-old me can’t help but be im­pressed. I wrote that not one but two young men, in­clud­ing Matt, had asked for my hand dur­ing cou­ples skate, when the over­head lights dimmed and the disco ball burst to life. How could I turn them down? Just had to di­vide the time equally and all. It was only fair.

Did I men­tion I can’t ac­tu­ally skate?

I’m not say­ing Mariah made a liar out of me; let’s just chalk it up to youth­ful day­dream­ing. I was great at that. As the Sniders cruised to­ward the Grand Canyon, I played “Al­ways Be My Baby” — and the men­tal re­play of that made-up skate rink mo­ment — over and over. And I sang. Loudly. When my sis­ter wants a guar­an­teed laugh, she will im­per­son­ate my very Mariah-es­que vo­cals from the back­seat of that rental car.

“You’ll al­ways be a part of me,” she dead­pans, lips barely mov­ing, face im­pas­sive. “I’m a part of you in­def­i­nitely. Boy, don’t you know you can’t es­cape me —”

“Ooh, dar­ling, ’cause you’ll al­ways be my baby!” I’ll fin­ish with a flour­ish, un­will­ing to ac­cept I ac­tu­ally sounded that aw­ful.

But how would I know? Our voices sound very dif­fer­ent to oth­ers. And most of my per­for­mances hap­pen as I drive alone with the win­dows down, warm air rush­ing in to drown out my ac­tual vo­cals. I like lis­ten­ing to male singers like John Mayer be­cause I can mimic his style bet­ter than, say, Adele.

My Adele could shat­ter Plex­i­glas.

But you know who would never knock me? Never joke about my cat­a­strophic cho­ruses? The one to whom I am (mostly) per­fect: my son.

Since his birth, I’ve put aside my fears of dam­ag­ing his baby eardrums to sing to Oliver. It’s funny how rhymes we haven’t heard in years — “Hush Lit­tle Baby,” “Old Mac­Don­ald” — come float­ing back when a new­born blinks up at you.

My fa­vorite has al­ways been “Twin­kle Twin­kle Lit­tle Star.” I sang it while rock­ing an in­con­solable Oliver in our creaky nurs­ery chair; I sang it while cradling him on walks up and down the hall, once a 3 a.m. duty I traded off with my hus­band.

Oliver is 16 months old now and quite the per­former him­self. He’s ac­cus­tomed to the warm spotlight shone on him by his dot­ing par­ents and rel­a­tives. Kid is a ham. Ol­lie re­cently learned it’s com­mon to clap at the end of a mu­si­cal per­for­mance — or any per­for­mance, re­ally — and usu­ally starts the ap­plause, watch­ing as a group of grown peo­ple all mimic one tod­dler. This de­lights him to no end, of course.

Ol­lie was un­usu­ally fussy the other night. Prob­a­bly teething again. I lifted him up and swayed around the liv­ing room, some­thing we haven’t done in ages.

“Twin­kle Twin­kle” re­turned. I sang softly, my voice ris­ing and fall­ing against the back­drop of the evening news. Oliver’s fuss­ing stopped as he watched me, his face just inches away. He lis­tened.

When I was fin­ished, a beat passed. Then Ol­lie clapped.

I’ve been moved to tears many times in my life: by births; by deaths; by a good, sappy Hall­mark com­mer­cial.

But I’ve never felt the swell of pride I did when my son ap­plauded that short, scratchy per­for­mance on a ran­dom week­night.

He’ll al­ways be my baby.

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