Why Open Another Box?

A unconditional conversation between mother and daughter...

Friday, September 10, 2010


Before I had children,

I used to envision myself

sitting in a rocking chair

with my unhappy baby in my lap

and singing the child to sleep

with a sweet, soothing lullaby.

What a bitter disappointment it was

when my daughter and son came along

and were definitely NOT soothed

by my rocking and singing!

Neither of them

fell asleep in my lap

while listening to my vast repertoire

of sleepy-time tunes.

Evan always became wide awake

and used his time on my lap

to dance and wriggle.

But my rocking and singing

actually seemed to irritate Erin.

As soon as she was old enough

to express herself verbally,

Erin stopped me

every time I tried to sing

to her or with her.

When I asked her

why she didn’t want me to sing,

she said she didn’t like my voice.

I remember telling my mom

I didn’t like her singing voice

when I was a kid,

but unlike me,

Mom ignored my negative opinions

and went right on singing.

I think the reason I gave up trying

to sing to and with my children

was that I had no support

from my little family.

Whereas I grew up

in a large, musical family

whose members sang daily,

my family by marriage was small

and loved all music

but the sing-along kind.

Erin and John loved listening

to all kinds of music

but neither one of them sang –

unless you count

the songs Erin made up as she played

and sang to herself.

The fact that my husband and daughter

didn’t sing

bothered me most

when we went on long trips.

When my sisters and I were young,

we used to sing

on all car trips

which were longer than a half hour.

It filled our travel time

in a pleasing way

and it made the time pass by quickly.

The three of us had memorized songs

from our school, church, friends, family

and Girl Scout camp.

We knew nursery rhyme tunes

such as the 99 versus of

“Old MacDonald”

and “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

We sang rounds

like “White Coral Bells”

and “Hey-Ho, Nobody Home.”

We knew many folk songs

among which were

“Oh Susannah,”

“I’ve Been Working On The Railroad,”

and “Yankee Doodle.”

Since our father was a singer,

we had memorized several show tunes

from musicals such as

“Oklahoma,” “South Pacific,”

and “The Sound Of Music.”

Probably our favorites

were the nonsense songs

which usually told a story

and dragged on for many, pointless verses.

One of those nonsense songs,

called “Found A Peanut,”

was so long, repetitive and boring,

our parents groaned

every time we started it.

I think that’s why

we chose to sing it so often.

For the most part, however,

Mom and Dad supported and encouraged

our singing.

Not only did they enjoy listening

to our three sweet voices

blending together harmoniously,

but they were saved from

having to think of activities

to entertain us

on long car rides.

Singing in the car, therefore,

had become a pleasant habit for me

which I wished to continue

with a family of my own.

But it was not to be.

As I explained earlier,

Erin would not permit me to sing,

not even in the car

on long, boring rides.

Without the support of my sisters,

I could not ignore the

“Mommy, stop singing!”

which came from the back seat.

I often turned around to look at Erin

and to try to convince her

it would really be fun

if we all sang together.

She always answered me with a scowl

and a firm, “NO, I DON’T WANT TO!”

When Erin started preschool,

I thought she would finally start

to memorize and sing some songs.

However, I still received

the same negative reaction from her

every time I encouraged her to sing.

… Until, that is,

the day we were returning

from Southern California

where we had spent Christmas

with Erin’s grandparents.

Erin was four and a half years old

and had been in preschool

since the previous August.

I figured

she had to have learned

at least a few songs in school

by that time.

After two years of enduring

Erin’s intolerance of my singing,

I didn’t dare start up a song

she’d probably been learning at school.

But on impulse,

I asked her if she knew a song

she wanted to sing to us.

I was stunned

when she said yes.

And I was as unprepared

for the wonderful song she sang

as I was for her agreeing to sing

in the first place.

Love’s something

If you give it away,

Give it away,

Give it away.

Oh, Love’s something

If you give it away,

You’ll end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,

Hold it tight

And you won’t get any.

You spend it, you lend it,

You’ll have so many,

You’ll end up having more!

That first time Erin sang to us

is etched in my memory.

I can see her

sitting on her old crib mattress

in the back seat

and leaning over the front seat

while she sang.

I see her Dorothy Hamill haircut

and her round face

set in such a serious expression

as she concentrated on the lyrics.

I remember watching Erin

and listening to her

without moving

for fear of breaking the enchanting spell.

My memory of that moment is so clear,

I even know where we were

on our journey northward --

just south of San Francisco.

It is probably such a clear memory

because it never happened again.

Erin never sang to us,

in the car or elsewhere,

until she learned camp songs.

six years later.

I can’t sing now,

due to my illness,

but from long experience

tunes still come into my mind

nearly every day.


I’ve been humming to myself

Erin’s “Magic Penny” song.

So often, these days,

it seems to happen

that things which come into my mind

over and over again

are doing so for a reason.

This time, I think,

I’m being reminded

that love is nothing

if I hold onto it tightly.

It’s a natural reflex of my illness

to cling in desperation

to the people and things I love.

In my fear of drowning,

I am actually pulling

the people I love

down with me.

I can save myself and them

by giving the great love within me


There is no limit

to the amount of people I can love.

The more I give away,

the more comes back

to support and heal me.

It’s just like my magic penny …”

as my daughter taught me

in a single, singing lesson

a long time ago.

By, Laura Schiller

March 1988

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