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Music for the soul

I remember the day Luca was born like it was yesterday. The anticipation of seeing that tiny baby I’d been carrying for months, wondering what he might look like, praying that the delivery will go smoothly, and the fear and worry that it might not. And I will never forget the feeling that came over me when they brought him to me. I stared at his perfect little face in complete disbelief! Never could I have imagined a baby as beautiful and perfect as the one I held in my arms.

Looking back sometimes, I find it amazing that as I watched my little Luca for the first time that day, it seemed as though everything around me had disappeared. I couldn’t see or hear anything but my baby. I wasn’t even in pain anymore. My feelings of worry and fear were replaced with love and happiness, the intensity of which I can’t even begin to describe. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, I spontaneously started singing to him. It was almost like my mouth had opened up by itself, and out flowed “Hush Little Baby”. I hadn’t planned on doing it. I hadn’t given it any prior thought. It just happened on its own, quite naturally, which is why I have since treasured this magical moment as one of the moments that defined me as a mother.

During the first few weeks after we took Luca home, I sang to him very often. I love music, and I love to sing, even though I don’t do it very well. I just feel like it heals my soul by pulling out the tears that I didn’t even know were there, or by giving me a rush of energy when I’m already feeling good. My emotional reaction to music I like is so strong that I get instant goose bumps all over my body! It’s therapeutic to me, and I am always reminded of this after having gone through long periods without music. I become cold, pushing my feelings away so I don’t have to deal with them, going about my days like a robot, just doing things because I have to. And after I hear that first song that means something to me, it makes me feel like I’ve started to breathe again! I’ve always assumed that music would also be good for my kids, because of the way it makes me feel, and because of all the things I’ve read about the benefits of music. And Luca actually responded very well to it. In fact, in the first few months, singing to him or playing the songs he liked helped him to fall sleep. His favorite CD was one by Lisa Ekdahl, which seemed strange to us because she doesn’t sing for kids. But her voice is so soft and her songs are so sweet and jazzy, we just concluded that Luca just had great taste in music!

As he grew older, he was inclined to watch the kids shows that were more musical, and more specifically the ones that used classical music. Before he could speak, he could pick up a tune very quickly and hum it back to us, so we tried hard to encourage his affinity for music by exposing him to it as often as we could.

But then one night around the time he was three years old, I was trying to calm him down after a long day. He was really tired and crying uncontrollably. I lay in bed next to him and tried everything to soothe him. I hugged him, patted him on the back, stroked his hair, but nothing worked. And then I made the mistake of singing “Hush Little Baby” to him, in the hopes that he would close his eyes and relax. Suddenly his tears of frustration and irritation turned into tears of sadness and heartbreak, as if my song had unleashed powerful emotions he didn’t know he had. It just killed me that not only did I fail to calm him, but I also made him sad!

Later when I thought of what had happened, I wondered if maybe it was just a coincidence, that it wasn’t the song that made him sad, but that he had just reached a breaking point at the end of the day. I waited for another opportunity to sing to him, when he was calmer, and this time he didn’t cry. He just put his hand on my mouth and shushed me. And when he got better at expressing himself with words, he would just tell me to stop singing.

For a long time I just didn’t understand Luca’s resistance to my singing. At first I thought that maybe he just thought I was a horrible singer, because he didn’t fight the other forms of music he heard. But then one day, while he was playing his electric piano, he quickly walked over to me and said: “Hug me mommy!” He sat in my lap and held on to me. At first I didn’t understand what was going on. It took me a while to realize that there was a specific song that the piano played, a slow mellow tune, that made him feel the need to run to me every time for a hug! The song made him sad, and I could understand why. It really was a sad tune. And since then I’ve noticed that whenever he hears a song that might be a little melancholic, he will either run away, ask me to turn it off, or come to me for comfort.

Even though the signs have always been there, and I’ve always known how sensitive my child is and how deeply he feels things, it still took me time to understand what it was about my singing he didn’t like. And it wasn’t me singing just any song, but just the ones that meant something; the ones that were written to touch a sensitive soul. There was a video that went viral about a month ago of an infant tearing up while her mother sang a sad song. Most people said that the video was really cute. But when I saw it, I cried. It just broke my heart to see a tiny baby become so overwhelmed with emotion. We tend to think that our little ones aren’t quite mature enough to feel the same way we do. We assume their emotional reactions are simpler; if they’re well rested, well fed, and in a good mood, they will smile; if they’re hungry, tired or over stimulated, they’ll cry. It’s difficult to imagine a child will have a genuinely happy reaction only by knowing that they’ve made their mom or dad happy; or in the same way a child who will cry tears of sorrow because a song brought up some sad feelings. And even though it makes me sad, I also think it’s just beautiful that some kids are so sensory that all the information they take in can lead them to have the same profound emotional reactions that we do as adults. It’s just wonderful!

Last weekend we were all in the car stuck in some pretty heavy traffic, and in an effort to distract our kids from the fact that we hadn’t moved for a while, and to blow off a little steam, my husband and I started singing Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. We actually went pretty crazy screaming out the song like a couple of lunatics. My baby stared at me with a sweet, confused smile on his face. And Luca laughed hysterically as he tried to “scream” along! So my husband suggested we listen to the actual song so that Luca would know what it was that we were attempting to sing. He sat up in excitement waiting to hear this incredibly fun song! As soon as the song started to play, my legs were covered in instant goose bumps. And I failed to mention earlier how scary my goose bumps actually are. They’re huge, “plucked chicken” goose bumps! So instead of focusing on the song, Luca just looked down at my legs, worried that something might have happened to me. He put his little hand on my leg and kept asking me if I was okay. And then, in an attempt to try and make me “better”, Luca asked us to stop the music. And he refused to hear the song again for fear that it might “hurt” me again.

Having grown up highly sensitive myself, I know how overwhelming it can be to be so easily affected with everything that surrounds me; music, movies, people, nature, the news, … And while the cruelty of the world can paralyze me with sorrow, its beauty can bring such intense joy, I feel like my heart might explode. I have seen my child at both ends of this spectrum. His sensitivity to the world has also made him sensitive and genuinely empathetic to others. It’s times like these when I can most clearly see that the world is in desperate need of sensitive and extraordinary people.

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