Why is it when I hear us singing, “Better live one day in Your courts, than thousands elsewhere” that I’d rather be elsewhere? We sound already dead. The band is doing their best to prompt us, the lead singer is belting it out unabashedly, and at least eighteen of us out here are lip syncing. We’re terrified of looking, feeling, or sounding stupid.
Lily’s in the back seat belting out some Black Eyed Peas, “Get started, get stupid…Let’s get it started, yeah!” and I have to deal with a lecture about our four year old understanding the meaning of the word ‘stupid’ and how it’d be better not to play that song or at least edit ‘stupid’ with ‘silly’.
“But, silly doesn’t mean stupid,” I stupidly argue.
“Yes, it does, silly,” she informs me.
The music quiets and Lily frowns. The music is turned off, but she starts to hear it from recollection, and the car seat dancing resumes, the head bobs, her four-year old arms flail recklessly.
“Get stupid!” rang out again from behind us.
I smiled. She frowned. Lily was in a low ether of heaven.
“Who’s Nelly Furtado?” I’m asked the next Saturday. “And why is Lily singing, ‘Fergalicious…I be up in the gym, workin’ on my fitness?’”
“Umm, we watched VH1 this morning while you were working.”
She stomps out. I turn on VH1. Lily and I dance while she showers. Pretty silly, eh?
I sang Lily to sleep most nights from three months old until her third birthday. I had an array of songs, nursery rhymes, and the old reliable, “Jesus Loves Me”. I walked and sang and she tucked her head under my chin, wrapped herself into me with her special blue woobie around her, and would hum along until falling fast asleep. At age three she didn’t want the music anymore. She liked stories “from my voice”, that I had to make up on the spot. And after dinner, she wanted to take walks, not read her books. She loved the weeping willow at the end of the street.
She sang on our walks, fingers poking into jean pockets, head bowed, finding a rock to kick or a worm to pick up and move to better ground. She was at least fourteen years old for those thirty minutes each night. She would reach the weeping willow and stand under it to look around. She’d dart in and out of its firmament, giggling. She’d sing all the way home. I’d put her to bed with crazy stories; fun and silly, sometimes even stupid.
The neighbors had the tree removed. There stood a stump one day. We didn’t know it had happened.
After dinner, we went for the walk and our jaws dropped at the end of the street. Lily’s tree of life had been removed from Eden. She shrieked. She ran. Mom chased. I stayed with the stump and sang it a song, then kicked a rock all the way home.
Lily passed out from crying that night. No song, no story “from my voice”, only a nightmare that woke her at her normal bedtime, screaming. I picked her up, and wrapped her into her woobie. She tucked her head under my chin and whimpered, “Will you sing me Jesus Loves Me?” We danced in the kitchen for the next ten minutes, transcending it into a low firmament of heaven.
“Why did she come to you? I’m the one that chased her home?”
“Because I know how to be stupid.”
“I have fun with her. I sing to her, and tell her stories too.”
“She lost her tree, and to her, whatever the reasons are, it’s stupid. It’s not silly, it’s stupid. She came to me because I’m not afraid of the word.”
“That’s just silly. She’s just a daddy’s girl.”
My wife went off to bed. I would follow later.
The next morning, I awoke to Nelly Furtado blaring through the surround sound. I came to the hallway to look down on them from the upstairs, and there they were, mother and daughter, dancing unabashedly, with weeping willow branches in each hand.
My wife waived me down. Lily saw her motion.
I started to descend the steps.
“Yeah, daddy,” my wife added, “let’s get stupid!”
I stopped descending long enough for my smile to swallow that swelling tear.
Lily laughed well.
We all got stupid.
I no longer lip sync.
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