Just a boring Sunday afternoon, calm and peaceful, just me and my girls — everyone is immersed in some craft, they draw and paint and learn technology (as in playing on the iPad). I’m writing and the difficulties of the world seem so far away. Nothing to think or worry about.
My youngest daughter, 4 years old, comes up to me, signals that I should take my earphones out — well yeah, I knew it couldn’t last forever.
‘Mum. Mum. Muuuuuuummmmmy…’
She’s tugging on my shirt, even if I already hear her she needs to repeat “mum” endlessly. It better be something important.
‘Mum, I invented a game, let’s play.
Okay, what now?
‘I will hum a song and you need to guess it.’
Fine, it seems easy. Let’s do it. I nod and tell her I’m listening. She starts humming, it goes on for a while. It doesn’t sound like anything I know. It sounds like a little hungry kitten, who is also in some inexplicable pain.
I admit I have no idea, so she restarts it. She does a funny dance to accompany the sounds and when she’s done, she’s looking at me with sparks in her eyes, with eternal anticipation. I honestly have no idea.
‘You need to hear it again?’ She is frustrated and annoyed. I should have already guessed it. But she’s willing to start it again. And she does. It is endearing and terrible at once.
My eldest daughter takes her earphones out. And as she rolls her eyes loudly, she whispers inaudibly to me:
‘Mum, it’s from Frozen.’ her expression of terror and disbelief mirrors mine and begs me to please guess it already before she starts again.
I stop her, ‘I know, I know! It’s Frozen!’
My youngest daughter is enchanted and very proud of herself. Both to have invented such a great game and that I managed to guess it just from the humming.
My daughter is brilliant, sweet, beautiful, talented and the whole world is laid out in front of her. But she cannot sing. She is utterly out of tune, she has absolutely no sense of rhythm and she usually forgets the lyrics as well. It’s a total disaster. In the kindergarten when they do these little shows for the parents with poems and songs to sing, she is lagging behind the rest, she is out of rhythm, out of tune and she is making up the words as she goes, usually, nothing to do with the original.
They say you always need to encourage your kids, telling them that they can do anything, they can become anything they want. But my daughter just… well, singing is really not for her. Even my other two girls know it and they are old and clever enough to be tactful so they suppress the laughter, but they try not to encourage their little sister to sing.
When do I tell her that she shouldn’t sing? How do I tell her, that it’s not for her? How do I kill her enthusiasm? Do I extinguish the light in her eyes? Do I cause life-long trauma by telling her not to sing anymore?
I am thinking of the talent shows when they show the embarrassing hordes of people who come with the utter confidence that they know how to sing — and they are just there to entertain the audience, but not in a good way. The common sentence you always here from them: ‘my mum told me I was talented’. For goodness sake, what kind of mother encourages their kid to embarrass themselves publicly on national television?
I am listening to her meowing, not resembling any tune, let alone Frozen. And I swear to myself that I will rather push her towards other arts, she is drawing and colouring beautifully, maybe she will be great at sciences and maths.
But what if she wants to sing?
I’m not ready to kill the sparks in her eyes. Will I ever be ready for that? I silently promise myself, her and the rest of the world, that I will find a way to let her know — not today, not tomorrow, maybe next year, or when she is old enough… but I swear, I won’t allow her to go to any talent show.
And I quickly put my earphones back in — looking around I see both my other daughters doing the same.
She keeps on singing. She dances to a non-existent rhythm. It’s terrible. But her face… it is lit up, radiating happiness and pride. A wave of love washes over me… She is talented, even if she cannot sing. Maybe a talent show is not such a bad idea if that’s what she wants… we’ll see, maybe…
But to be sure, I keep my earphones in. It’s easier to love her this way.
(Update: relax, of course, I would never tell her to stop singing and I never had, and since I wrote this article she has definitely improved and sometimes finds the tune — and the rhythm.)