Summer of 1993. Four thirty in the morning. Willow Drive nursery.
“Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder.. .”
I’m surrounded by fruit trees; nobody can hear me sing. I have been memorizing hymns for months during my commute to work and out to the college; the song is my current favorite. I have stood at the top of a mountain and felt my own soul hum; I think I know just how Carl Gustag Boberg felt when he penned the words that became “How Great Thou Art”. I drive with a hymnal in my lap and I memorize all the verses, not just the ones we sing at church. I’ve been told a mother needs to have music in her head. Good music, and lots of it.
I’m seventeen and on some level I really want nothing more or less than to be a mother. I prepared myself for motherhood the way a student might prepare themselves for medical school. I’ve read the books; I’ve done internships as older sister, babysitter, candy striper in the children’s ward.
I’ve also graduated high school a year early with a 4.0 and almost perfect scores on my college entrance exams.
It bothers people that motherhood is my main goal.
Were I beautiful, no one would insist I market my looks or my body; but because I am intelligent somehow I owe modern society my undivided attention, my intellectual services.
But a seventeen year old doesn’t worry much about obligations to society. I sing my songs and I dream, out in the fields, newly American and keenly aware of being young and alive and strong.
A face appears between the saplings, a few rows over. A small, rounded Mexican woman with a thickened, wrinkled complexion. Several other women crowd around behind her. She pushes her way through the trees and her friends part the branches to watch. She gestures excitedly at me with her pruning shears. I have no idea what she’s saying.
“Senor, mi Dios, al contemplar los cielos,” she sings. Her voice is no better than mine, but I recognize the tune. We know the same hymn, and this makes her happy. Everyone is smiling. They are clearly delighted that the strange white girl on the early morning crew knows this song.
I’m not sure how to respond.
“It’s my favorite hymn,” I tell them in English. I’m pretty sure they don’t understand me either; they smile as everyone retreats back to her own row. Through the leaves I can see the sun glint off their shears as they work.
When I marry, I am told I have sold myself short. I have my babies and I sing my songs late into the night and in the early morning where nobody can hear me but the dark. One night I am singing as I pace the hall with a colicky newborn. The almost two year old calls me in and demands his blanket that has fallen, and “So-so.”
I don’t understand what he means. I hold the baby on my chest and I sit in the rocking chair; his older brother stands in his crib, eyebrows knit together, watching me. “So-so,” he pleads again.
“I don’t know what you’re saying,” I tell him. I pat the baby’s backand pick up singing where I left off, “I marvel that he would descend from His throne divine, to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine.”
The two year old jumps up. “So-so!” he exclaims. “A soul so…” Aha! Our eyes light at the same time as I make the connection. So-so!
“You want me to sing that song?”
“So-so song,” he says, grinning.
“That’s one of my favorites, too,” I tell him, and I start at the beginning. He lays down on his belly, looking out at me through the bars of the crib as I rock his brother. When I get to the soul so rebellious part he grins.
And as he gives in to the demands of sleep, he is still smiling; his blanket knotted around his fists, his tiny behind in the air. We know the same song; we understand each other; we have not been sold short. We are whole in a way no intellectual effort can explain or comprehend.
My son is thirteen and a half now. His feet are enormous. He opens pickle jars when I can’t. All on his own, he declines invitations to parties where he knows the planned activities are not the wisest; he tells me this in a matter of fact way while he helps a two-year-old into her coat. I want to hug him; tell him he makes me so proud, but I just listen.
He stands up each Sunday with the other boys his age, all in their suits and ties and he is the tallest one. And during the sacrament hymn, I see his lips moving:
“I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.”
I listen, wanting to hear his voice, but I can’t pick it out over the voices between us and the toddler on my lap. And so I watch, and I am whole. We know the same songs. Still.
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