How my 3-year-old helped me to find my voice

You know those people who mouth the words to all the songs in church, who move their lips, pretend-singing while no actual sound escapes from them? Yeah, that’s me.

It’s not because I can’t carry a tune. While I’m not expecting a recruitment letter from the choir anytime soon, I can usually find the general vicinity of the right notes if I have to.

It’s more that growing up, I didn’t like the sound of my own voice. I still remember the first time I heard a recording of myself. It wasn’t fun.

Add to this the fact that I’ve always worried more than I should about what others think of me — especially those I care about. I’ve always craved their approval. I’ve let it hold me back from being myself, from expressing what I really think, feel, and believe. I had this blog for years before I worked up the nerve to share it with any of my friends. Putting myself out there for others to see is like a sort of cathartic torture for me.

And so I’ve never really sung in church — convinced, apparently, that if I don’t like the sound of my own voice, surely others will feel the same. I don’t think my lip-syncing performance has caused me to worship God any less, but it has kept me from being myself — or more precisely, from being OK with myself.

Something changed the day my daughter was born. She was a fresh start, a blank slate. Her only impulses were to receive love and give it back in return. It’s easier to be yourself around a squirming infant who just wants to be held. So I started singing to her. Silly made-up songs, lullabies, even the occasional U2 song. (We must’ve sung and danced to “Stuck in a Moment” a dozen times a few nights ago.)

She doesn’t care how my voice sounds. (Unless I start singing in a parody opera voice; then I get told off.) She doesn’t care if I get the words wrong. (Unless I change the lyrics to “Stuck in a Moment”; then I get corrected.) She just likes to sing and dance with her dad. She helped me find my voice. More precisely, she helped me to be OK with my voice. I figure if she’s all right with it, then I can be too.

We all need people who accept us unconditionally, whose love proves the folly of changing who we are out of fear for what others may think, who give us permission to be ourselves, who teach us what real acceptance looks like so we can extend it to others. That’s what my daughter has done for me in her first three years of life on this earth.

So the other day in church, I sang. Actually sang. I didn’t just move my lips. Mind you, I didn’t sing loud. But it was loud enough that that sound escaped my mouth. Amazingly, no one asked me to pipe down or kindly move to the back. No one in the vicinity shuffled a few feet away from me. The choir didn’t stop mid-tune to discover the source of the unholy racket.

It felt good to actually sing for a change. That was my daughter’s gift to me: the gift of unconditional, unhesitating acceptance, squirrely voice and all.

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