I sing: In the car, in the shower, at home alone, the cat cocking one ear and looking puzzled. Sometimes in the afternoon, home from work before my children and husband, I dance, the cat my only companion. At these times he looks peevish. Bring the other one back, he implores. The one who carries in the groceries and picks the clothes up off the floor. She’s the one more likely to feed me.
I sing in the car, and my children object. My teenager hisses, Stop that. I sigh. I point to the windows, fully closed. He retorts, You can still hear, through car windows. I consider asking how he knows this, for a fact, but instead I stay silent. He is fourteen and knows everything, evidence be damned.
So I do this: I cry, This is Blondie! Heart of Glass! Good stuff! Now both children are eyeing me. It’s the sympathy I glimpse that I cannot abide.
As if in mourning for me the teenager shakes his head and mutters, Not cool, Mom, not cool at all. The tween giggles, before catching my eye and flashing me his repentant face.
What has made me think that I am any hipper than my mother singing opera on the streets of Manhattan? When I would separate myself from her by a foot or two and pray, really pray, that strangers thought I was not with the crazy lady shouting Mozart?
I may be forty-four years old now, older in fact than my mother was when she sang opera (in a startlingly sweet soprano voice, considering her smoking habit) up and down Third Avenue. I am certain that I look forty-four. But I feel like a teenager. How can that be? Debbie Harry starts singing (on the soft rock station, I notice, but pretend I haven’t), and I am again sixteen, singing to the girl in the mirror, watching with pleasure and horror both as her halfway-to-womanhood hips (body as foreign as it’s ever been) shimmy to the beat without any recognizable input from me, idly wondering if I will be able to pass for eighteen when my friends and I go out on Saturday night. (Newsflash: No.) God: I am still at the point where I am wishing for a few extra years, a more advanced age. How long does that last? I never thought to mark the moment at which I’d stop wishing for a few more years on top of my own.
Here’s what I want to tell my chronically mortified son:
There will come a time when you will remember your mother singing in the car, and instead of cringing with shame, you will smile, to think that in those few minutes your mother was carefree enough to sing out as if a mere teenager, to feel (despite all evidence to the contrary) cool. If cool means not caring what anyone else thinks about your singing, or dancing. If cool means marching to your own drummer, even if the drummer is by now a leathery hollow man of sixty-eight years old. Yes, I think you will treasure this evidence (for by now you will have learned to appreciate the scientific method) of your mother’s happiness. You might even recognize, with a little shock of surprise, “Damn. She was actually pretty cool, singing in the car.”
…this one’s for Brian Thomas, who wondered if he’d ever be cool.