Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Getting It Right

Teenagers are hard on your ego.

My youngest daughter has a really good ear for tunes. I used to think I did too, especially compared with my mother, who got Oh, Susanna mixed up with Campton Races. My mother didn't let her inability to distinguish one tune from another interfere with her love of singing. If she heard somebody humming Oh Promise Me , she would happily join in with Sweet Genevieve. When it was pointed out to her that the song being hummed was actually Oh Promise Me and not Sweet Genevieve, she was always amazed: Really? They sounded exactly alike! We sang a lot in my family, so this happened with exasperating frequency.

As a teenager, I used to give my mother a hard time for her musical cluelessness. My scorn must have hurt her, but she took it with grace and humor.

I'm nowhere near as good a sport as my mother was.

The other day, I had the temerity to join my daughter in singing Ginza Ondo. This is a popular Japanese folk song beloved of Tokyoites, and it is a challenge to sing it well. My daughters grew up singing Japanese folk songs and they sing Ginza ondo a lot. I knew Ginza Ondo years before my daughters were born, but I've always had a tough time singing the beginning, drawing out that first long hahhh, and knowing just when to launch into the main melody.

But the other day was different. I finished the hahhh right on time and started the main melody, totally in sync. I was thrilled: I actually remembered the words and had a handle on the rhythm! By the time we got to the chorus, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Then I happened to see my daughter's face. She was scowling and her eyebrows were knitted together. My joy and triumph at nailing the song vanished in a flash.

"Mom!" my daughter fumed. "If you can't do any better than that, why do you bother?"

"What in the world did I do wrong?" I spluttered.

My daughter took a long, exasperated breath and sang the phrase I'd allegedly messed up. It sounded exactly like what I'd just sung.

"Now try it again," she said, rolling her eyes.

I did, with exactly the same results. No matter how hard I tried to repeat my daughter's phrasing, I could not get it right. Einstein's definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time. Let me tell you, he was right on the money. I went to bed that night, feeling crazy and delusional; why did I think I could sing? I might not confuse Oh Promise Me with Sweet Genevieve, but my daughter could obviously hear what I could not. How humiliating! How had my mother coped?

The next morning, my daughter was rushing around as she usually does in the morning, looking for things she should have packed the night before. She was at the door, struggling into her shoes when I happened to glance at the calendar: April the first!

"Where's my other shoe?" my daughter cried, looking around frantically.

"It's there somewhere," I said, preoccupied.

April the first, and I hadn't tried my usual April Fool's Day trick! I was really slipping. Even if my daughters had both assured me that this year I wouldn't get away with it. That this year, I'd have to find another lame gag and pull that instead...

"Is it in the hallway?" my daughter called, bending down and looking under the table.

"I'll just check," I said. In her current state, she was off guard. Vulnerable. My much-used lame gag might just work yet again.

"Can you see it in there?" she cried.

Yep, she sounded frantic. I seized my chance.

"Oh crap!" I yelled. "Don't tell me you didn't see this dead mouse in the hallway! Its guts are all over the place You know very well it's your turn to clean it up!"

"Nooo!" my daughter wailed. "Mom, I can't! I'll be late for school!"

I marched back into the kitchen. "Then I'll call the school. But you are going to clean up this dead mouse before you leave this house. Because you promised."

Her reaction was near-apoplectic hysterical rage fading into open-mouthed exasperation when she knew she'd been had. It could hardly have been more satisfying.

Sometimes you do the same thing over and over and get the exact same results. My mother got me a few times with the cat-mess trick, and I got her a few times too.

Now I remember how she coped.


Charles Gramlich said...

Lol. My son appreciates my singing. Or else.

veach glines said...

Were you singing it wrong all those years (since before she was born) or was she playing an all fools day, prematurely, on you?
...I gots-ta know!

Kim Ayres said...

If you play a note, I can hum it back at the same pitch, but that's about my limit. I can't sing, and don't attempt to. I also never figured out how people could play the guitar and sing at the same time - that's even more complicated than walking and chewing gum!

Bish Denham said...

There's lots of musical ability on both sides of my family, except for my mother. She had great rhythm but she couldn't sing a lick. She used to say her talent was being able to turn on the radio.

And good for you being able to pull one on your kid!

Carole said...


Since I am tone deaf, neither I or my children sing well. But I have your mother's disease in the movie star arena. There are always two actors who are exactly the same person to me so when I tell my kids, "You know, that Bruce Willis movie," they know automatically it was Mel Gibson. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are the same person. Kevin Bacon and Kevin Costner act in the same movies. Well you get the idea. I don't even try any more.

I say, "You know that one movie with that one guy." And they can figure it out from there.

Anne Spollen said...


Emma walked away from me the other day in the mall when a song I like came on the store's radio.

Later - "Why did you do that?"

Answer - "Terrified you were going to start singing to that like you do in the kitchen."

MG Higgins said...

Oye! That's funny. My mom had a beautiful voice, but I still rolled my eyes when she sang and anyone but family could hear her (which was often). it was a teenage embarrassment thing.

I have the same questions as Veach ... was your daughter playing an early April fools on you?

Robin said...

Yay! Revenge is sweet! So sorry about the song. Maybe that was your daughter's pre-April Fool's trick!

When the boys were really little, I tried to fool them with fake dog poop and they both burst out crying. It was awful.

Robert the Skeptic said...

My mother bought an organ which she loved to play. Unfortunately it was located in the living room next to the TV. Obviously my mom and dad had potentially competing forms of entertainment.

So they could both enjoy Themselves without disturbing one another, I installed a headphone jack in the organ. That way my mother could play to her heart's content and Dad could watch TV with no competing organ music to contend with.

But no... Mom would begin to sing as she played the organ. As she was wearing headphones and couldn't hear her own voice, her singing consisted of odly melodic nondescript wailing noises.

Pretty soon my dad would yell: "Mary, stop singing." But because she was wearing headphones, soon dad upped the ante yelling: "MARY, STOP SINGING, GODDAMMIT!"

I'd tap mom on the shoulder, gesturing "Shhhhh" and the wailing would stop and dad could continue to watch TV again.

Falak said...

Hahahaha! My Dad loves singing and every time he does I plead and beg him to stop. Thank God he's not into April Fool's Day tricks!

angryparsnip said...

I sing quite lovely in the shower or on long car drives by my self !

cheers, parsnip

Angela Ackerman said...

Haha, awesome. I am a terrible singer--my kids cringe whenever I sing along.

Glad you managed to pull an April Fool's Joke. I had forgotten completely this year!

Have a great weekend!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- Often my daughter and I sing together in perfect harmony, but she struggles with suffering fools. Also, the better she gets at music, the harder it is for her to suffer them -- and the more I suffer.

Veach -- I wish I could answer that, but I don't know! I think I was singing it just fine, but clearly there are higher levels of ability I had no idea of. My mother never got what she was doing wrong either. I like to think that I'm a bit further along than she was, but according to my daughter, I'm right in there with her.

Kim -- I've never been able to sing and play a musical instrument at the same time either, but then the only instruments I can (sort of) play are the violin and harmonica. I CAN sing, but my mother thought she could too. Sad.

Bish -- My mother could turn on the radio, but she never figured out how to turn on the stereo, and she depended on us to turn on the t.v. She had a beautiful, strong voice, tragically coupled with a tin ear. But she knew hundreds of ballads and folk songs I'd give a lot to know myself now.

Carole -- Me too! There's one actor who looks EXACTLY like Matt Damon, and I'm always getting him mixed up with another guy. I know all my Japanese actors (or I used to, fifteen years ago), but the brown-haired Caucasians throw me for a loop. After reading your comment, I'm proud to say that I know the difference between Leonardo deCaprio and Brad Pitt. Thank you for making me feel gifted! :o)

AnneS -- Yes, in supermarkets and shopping malls, when certain songs come on, my kids duck and run. They know I'm dangerous when Leonard Cohen or Simon and Garfunkel come on, and they RUN if an Aretha Franklin song starts playing.

MG -- Unfortunately, no. My daughter has a higher standard than I do: when it comes to tunes that are slightly off, or a rhythm that is just a beat or two removed from the original, she has a sixth sense. Thank GOD she never heard my mother attempting 'Oh, Promise Me'.

Robin -- I wish my daughter had been playing an April Fool's trick on me, but the truth is, my Ginza Ondo did not match her expectations.

Why did your kids cry? Did you put the dog poop on their plates instead of chocolate cake? Now you've got me intrigued!

Robert -- That's a brilliant story, and you were a good son to try to help, as you did. I've heard the odd, "Mary, stop singing" myself, with plenty of embellishments.

Falak -- What is there about parents singing that drives kids crazy? When my kids were little, they loved it when I sang them songs. (sniff)

AP -- It doesn't matter whether parents can sing or not, their kids still cringe when they open their mouths. Somewhere, there's a land of Children Who Love to Hear Their Parents Sing. Take me to that place!

Angela -- I really can sing! I have witnesses! Sadly, this does not cut ice with my youngest daughter. She has higher standards. Through her, I have learned humility. There's always a silver lining!

Kappa no He said...

When my son complains, I sing louder and with more creative lyrics. I'm jealous that you guys have such talent!

Pat said...

Well your daughter should be prepared now for when she is a Mum.
Great minds... my post concerns a mouse:)

Girl Friday said...

LOL, I always thought I was a terrible singer until one year at Christmas my parents and I sang karaoke at home. WOW. I was Maria Callas compared to them. Still makes me laugh to think about it :)

Mary Witzl said...

Thersa -- I've tried that occasionally, but she just covers her ears and goes "La-la-la". And who says we have talent? ;o)

Pat -- If and when my kid ever becomes a mother, she won't know what hit her. I keep telling her to treat me well now so she won't get a whopping dose of karma.

I hope that cat takes care of your mouse -- or better yet, that your mouse finds a safer place to thieve.

Girl Friday -- Good for you -- I hope your parents took it well. Compared to my parents, I won hands down in the voice/music department. I really can carry a tune AND I have rhythm, but my daughter has very high standards.

Robin said...

I was just really stern, because I was trying to trick them. I said, "Come here, you two! I go away for 2 days, and someone poops on the floor?! What is wrong with you people?" in an angry voice. I guess they weren't used to me being angry at them. They were so cute and squishy. I mostly kissed and squished them. They didn't like "angry voice" one bit. It took Adam and me a while to calm them down and show them it was a joke. Alex refused to even touch the fake poop. He bawled when we put his hand near it.

Yay. Good joke.

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