Karen Rivers

singing, fires.

Karen Rivers

My son has suddenly developed a very specific fear of singing in front of people.  This fear developed sometime this morning between brushing his teeth and OH MY GOD PUT YOUR SHOES ON WE HAVE TO GO OR WE WILL BE LATE.   (We were late.)  


He has an incredible voice.  


The other day, he was clowning around, singing a song from a show (Annie, maybe, but I can't remember what it was) and his voice actually gave me goosebumps.  I was shocked.  There's no other word for it.  His voice was electrifying.  "Do that again," I said.  "Please."  So he did.


"Why didn't you tell me you could sing?"  I said.  I felt cheated, like he'd been intentionally hiding this, his innate ability to sing in a way that gives people (me) goosebumps.  


He shrugged.  "I don't know," he said.   "I don't walk around going HEY LOOK WHAT I CAN DO, I guess."


"Well, you should," I said.   


I immediately enrolled him in Kids on Broadway, a week-long day camp. He enjoyed it every day from Monday through Thursday, although we were increasingly late each day.  On Friday, he refused to get out of the car, and when he finally did, he went to inspect a tree in the playground.  This made us even later.  "I just need FIVE SECONDS," he said, so I counted down, in a mad voice.  ("Don't use a mad voice," my daughter said.)  


Twenty five seconds (or forever) later, I got him to go into the building but he then refused to enter the studio.  He's almost as tall as me.  I wanted to pick him up and toss him into the room, but I couldn't.  This is what it means to feel helpless.


"Get in there," I said, helplessly. "Or no video games for a week."   Then I added, "So help me."  I don't even know what that means.  "So help me."  What is the point of that?  It's just an angry punctuation mark at the end of a mad-voiced sentence.  SO HELP ME.   What I really meant was, "I need help getting you into that room because you are going to be OK, I promise."


"You don't understand anything," he said.  


"Now," I said, by which I meant,  "I want you to know that you can sing.  I want other people to hear you and go, "Wow, that kid can sing."  I want you to come out of the room thinking differently of yourself, thinking, "I am someone who can sing!""  


My dad still makes fun of my singing voice even though I'm careful to not sing in front of him.  No one I've ever met thinks it's as terrible as he thinks it is.  Each time he says something about my singing, he laughs and I remember, "That's right, I can't sing."  


When my kids were little, I sang them to sleep every night.  Ten or fifteen or twenty songs.  My kids have never been easy sleepers.  They seemed to love the singing.  "Sing another one," they'd say.  And I'd think, "Oh, I can sing!"  I'm pretty sure that was a delusion but it was fun while it lasted.  They were just stalling, putting off the moment when I said, "That's it, go to sleep now."


Parenting is hard.  There's too much power in it at the same time as not enough.  


They still don't ever seem to want to go to sleep but I've stopped singing at bedtime.  Now I say, "If you don't go to sleep right now, I'll have to cancel your playdate tomorrow."   Parenting by threats and bribes turns out to be the only way to go after singing stops working.  


Especially when you remember that you can't sing, after all. 



I keep feeling like something is about to happen, but I don't know what it is.  I've bought some dresses and started wearing them.  You can decide, at any time, to be a person who regularly wears dresses instead of a person who rolls out of bed in a tank top and simply adds a pair of jeans and carries on like this is perfectly acceptable.  I'm not saying I'll never revert.   I probably will.   But in the meantime, it's very hot.  It's so hot that dresses are the only thing that make sense, the way they hold themselves away from my body, refusing to succumb to sticky sweat.  



All across the province, fires are burning.  


A few days ago, while I was driving, a man in front of me in a black Datsun rolled down his window and threw his cigarette butt out. It made a slow motion arc towards the scrub grass beside the road.  We were passing through a forest that is so parched and dry that when I walk through it, the ground kicks up clouds of dust that make me sneeze.  The yellow grass, the tinder-dry trees.  The forest backs onto my house.  In the winter, tree branches hit my roof regularly, scraping the shingles, getting lodged in the gutters.  


I was so angry, I wanted to shout at that man for potentially destroying these woods and my home, but he was long gone.  Instead, I pulled over and looked for the butt but I couldn't find it.  Maybe I imagined the whole thing.  Maybe the man in the black Datsun was just singing along with the radio.  Maybe his arm was out the window, snapping in tune with the beat, and it just looked like a cigarette.  Maybe it was just a trick of the light.



The sky is different now.  I can see that it's trying hard to be blue but is instead covered with a film of smoke and ash.  Looking at the hazy sky makes me think of cataracts, or when my contacts get old and suddenly I can no longer blink them clean.


I'm not saying they are unstoppable but the fires do seem unstoppable, what with the fact that no one seems to be able to stop them.  The fires are raging.   Apocalyptic.   I sit outside with my coffee and ash drifts down from the haze like the snow that we don't get anymore because of global warming. Somewhere in an office with air conditioning, our government is selling all our water to Nestle. Animals are running out of the burning forests, stampeding towards safety, as if such a thing exists.   The photographs of the animals silhouetted against the flames are breathtaking.   


We should all sing more, that's all I'm saying.  You never know when it might all just be over, the sky slowly obliterated, the ash falling faster and faster, the animals trampling us down in the streets as everyone runs and runs and runs with nowhere left to go, snapping photos with their iPhones, filling up Instagram with the shocking beauty of it all.