I decided to join in the Practices of Parenting Carnival mostly because I really like candy apples and also that game where you spin the wheel to find out your prize. I hope I win a car.
All day, I’ve been trying to come up with a practice of parenting that I actually do on a reasonably regular basis. Yes, there are rhythms to our day. The toothbrushes come out twice daily (and such hygienic moments are always followed by a ritual scrubbing out the sink and cursing companies that make children’s toothpaste in neon colors). We eat meals at the usual times and with a predictable grace, dinner, extended dawdle time pattern. We do the goodnight drill in pretty much the same way as most families, I suppose. Despite being a small family, a non-traditional family, a bi-racial family, we’re really quite boring. Someone once said to me, “I’d love to spend a day just seeing how your bi-racial family lives.” Really? Because there’s not much racial differentiation in toothpaste, and dirty underwear in the BASKET not the floor, and goodnight moon go dog go, I said ONE TV show, sure I’ll pretend to talk like your baby for a while, but not all night because it hurts me to talk in that squeaky voice. We’re deliciously pedestrian.
The practice that embodies us, I guess, is fairly pedestrian, too. We sing. We sing a lot. We sing all day, really.
The first year and a half of our time together was spent driving around an 11 year old car with no working radio. More specifically, there was no radio at all, just a hole to commemorate the place where all the radios previously stolen from the car had once lived. Selam knew–and was awed by–the fact that most other cars had “musica” in them, but never seemed to question the fact that ours didn’t. We sang. I functioned as her own private juke box, performing songs on command, sometimes the same ones over and over and over. Having a car radio has changed that. Now we sing along to Dan Zanes, and the Ethiopian kid’s CD. Sometimes, though, I tell her the CD player is broken, and we bounce along Route 15 singing “You are my sunshine” and “Sardines and Pork and Beans.”
The songs don’t stop there. We sing everywhere. We sing in the mall. We sing in the tub. I make up songs while we’re cooking dinner. She sings to herself while coloring at Girl Scouts. We sing the doxology every night for grace. At bedtime, I sing until the soft breaths become tiny snores. And then I sit in the dark and sing some more. “Good night my Selam, good night my love…”
We sing when we’re scared. When the car broke down last winter, and we were stranded on the highway rest stop in the bitter cold, the only thing I could think to do while we walked to the building was sing. When phlebotomists menace with needles and bandaids, we sing. I once sang her the entire alto score to the Messiah–from memory–while sitting in the Emergency room.
And when I took her home from the orphanage, after dinner but before the bath, I took her out to the little courtyard, and sang to her. She didn’t understand a word. I didn’t have any idea what I was supposed to be doing as a mother. I had expended so much effort just getting to that place that I had no clue how to act now that I’d finally arrived. I just knew these songs, and I carried her on my hip around that tiny square, singing softly the words that I knew. I was trying to cover my fear with foreign words, trembling notes, trying to sing my way into a life that I could only imagine, using the tools I had: the songs my mother sang to me, the songs of church, of summer camp, of Broadway musicals—a crazy concoction to be sure. It was all I really had, though. We were both terrified, but the singing was enough.
I sometimes wonder what Selam will remember of these years. Will the carefully planned birthday parties be highlights? the ballet lessons? the trips to the zoo? I don’t know. I suspect, though, that whatever is remembered, it will probably come with a soundtrack that includes “I Am What I Am” and “Every Valley” alongside camp songs about ducks and junk food and this joy that I have.
Some mamas quilt baby clothes into permanent testaments to childhood. Others scrapbook. We sing.