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Finding My Voice

When I was in sixth grade, I decided I would try out for cheerleaders. It looked like fun. I had no experience and knew no cheers, but I tried to learn one and I went to the tryout after school. I remember walking out onto the stage, and seeing the faces in the audience of a few teachers or coaches and a bunch of girls my age. There were pom poms on the stage and I picked them up. I froze. I couldn't remember the cheer I was supposed to perform. I couldn't make any sound squeak out of my throat. I ducked and ran, and never tried out again.

I can remember once being at the front of the class for a book report or something. Maybe fourth or fifth grade. I had read all the books, and done all the homework. I had written something. I remember standing at the front of the room, the feeling of the paper jittering around in my hands and making crinkly noises. The feeling of breaking out all over in a sweat. That closed feeling in my throat that I became so accustomed to in my childhood, that feeling of wanting desperately to speak, but not being able to force air over my vocal chords in a way that would make words come out. Such a powerless, helpless feeling.

I can remember the feeling, all through my childhood, of wanting to sing Happy Birthday, but of not being able to sing out loud. I would mouth the words and maybe squeeze out one or two, hoping no one could tell it was me. I felt like I could never find the pitch and was always out of tune. Maybe I was, I don't know. What I do know, is that until the time I had children of my own, and it was time to sing Happy Birthday to them, I couldn't bring myself to sing. I thought I would never sing because my father would never sing, not even Happy Birthday. When I had kids, even though it was very hard for me, I sang to them. For many years, I only did this when I was alone with the kids; my husbands did not hear me sing. We sang Christmas carols, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, I've Been Working on the Railroad, You Are My Sunshine, and many other songs I remembered from my childhood. We sang almost every time we got in the car. It became a thing that we did together. I sang them to sleep.

Only in recent years have I been able to sing in front of other people. Okay, years ago I joined the University Chorus when I was a student. Having my voice camouflaged by a hundred other voices didn't count, I thought, and even in that context I found it very hard to sing. I learned the songs by ear and did my best not to squeak out of turn. I had joined that choir because I was so terrified of singing, but I wanted with my whole heart and soul to sing.

Now, singing and dancing is the way I start out almost every day. I sing a lot and I sing even when other people can hear me. My grandson told me the other day that I have a beautiful singing voice and I shed a few tears. He doesn't even know how hard this was for me, because all he knows about is a grandma who sings. He doesn't know how many years it took me to break free from that cage. He doesn't know that something as natural to him as breathing was a struggle for me to learn. And he doesn't know that the reason I did it was because I wanted my kids to love music, and I didn't want to pass on my fears about singing. All four of my kids are musicians. Both grandkids are musicians. All of them sing as easily as they walk. They don't know this was a gift from me to them. They don't know how much joy this brings my heart because of that. They didn't need to know. It was a journey my soul called me to, until I listened.

While I thought I was doing something for my kids, in reality that journey was all about me finding my voice. It was really a gift to myself.

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