Throughout my pregnancy, I couldn’t wait to sing to my baby. I collected songs, carefully choosing the soundtrack of his first year before he was even born. My son was a happy baby who laughed at everything. So it took a long time to realize that he was not a music fan. His second full sentence turned out to be, “No sing, Mama!” but he had to repeat it many times until I understood. It turns out, my son is very sensitive to sound, and the sounds of music are often too much for him.
I doubt that I could have stopped forcing music on my boy if fate had not intervened. Shortly after his 1st birthday, stress stole the music from my own heart. I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and during my 15-month treatment course, I lost my ability to work, my home, all my savings, and eventually, my marriage.
At first it was just that music pushed my emotional buttons, but as the stress piled up, music began to make me physically ill. After a horrible incident where I got trapped in a supermarket line while “The Christmas Shoes” (that sappy song where the lonely little boy can’t afford to buy his dying mother shoes for her burial) playing on the overhead PA upset me to the point of throwing up, I made a conscious effort to avoid all music. Cutting music out of my life was a form of grieving, an aural equivalent of wearing all black and a veil. For my son though, the new silence in the car and the house must have seemed like an answered wish!
After long years of quiet car rides, I slowly worked through my grief, but music still felt like nails on a chalkboard to me. I realized that my love for music was not going to magically come back. If I wanted music in my life, I would have to invite it to return. Baby steps. Carefully picking out one CD and playing it alone in the car as I worked through the tears. Surfing the radio when I felt brave. Friends gifting me with an iPod and reminding me how much I used to enjoy singing.
In time, I welcomed music back into my life, but my son did not feel so welcoming. I began to realize how sensitive he was to sounds in general, and how music seemed to overwhelm and confuse him. On Mom’s Day at his preschool, I witnessed my son marching straight into the corner of the music room and hunching into the fetal position with fingers in his ears before the class even started. He began to carry a noise-canceling headset everywhere, which helped him cope in loud situations, but I worried that allowing him to revel in silence was impairing his ability to cope with a loud, music-filled world. I knew I had to start easing him into it, but when I would try to sing, his fingers would go right into his ears. When I played a song for him, I was lucky to make it 10 seconds before he started screaming, “Turn off the noise!”
I was determined to keep trying. I put a new song on each day with no success, until the day I played “Yavo” by the Maccabeats. At 10 seconds in, the scream didn’t come. I was holding my breath until the halfway mark, but still no scream. When the song was over, he said, “Play it again, Mama.” We played that song over and over probably logging more than 200 plays over the weeks that followed. I could see him working to pick out the couple of Hebrew words that he knew. Soon, he was relaxing into the music, finding comfort and reassurance in the repetition of sounds that were becoming more than just noise to him.
Then, on a day when only he could have known he was ready, my son asked to hear the next song on the album, and he loved it immediately. Almost overnight he was singing along to every song the Maccabeats had ever recorded, and hopping in the car saying, “Jewish music, Mom. Turn on the Jewish music!”
So naturally, I couldn’t believe it when the Maccabeats announced that they were coming to the Hillel center at the University of Oklahoma. I never thought they would make it to OKLAHOMA! I bought tickets immediately and then sat my son down to explain what the concert would probably be like. He was excited, but also really, really nervous. We decided that the headphones should stay at home, even though he really didn’t think that he could sit in a crowded theater without them.
On the day of the concert he was a bundle of nerves and tears, and wanted to bail, but I knew that if he were ever going to like a concert, this would be the one. We made a deal that if he didn’t like it after two songs, we could leave.
Through the magic of social media, I had already heard of the very difficult flight situation that the Maccabeats had endured traveling to our little city, and I knew it might be a bit of a wait. So we found seats in an empty row where my son’s nervous ticks and compulsion to hide his head in the seat cushions would go unnoticed, but when the group walked onstage, his head definitely came up!
He was instantly comforted that they looked exactly the way they look in their videos, and when they busted out pitch perfect live versions of every song he loved, he was able to relax into the concert vibe as well. And when I saw him finally get out of his seat to dance and sing at the top of his lungs, along with the rest of the enthusiastic crowd, I just couldn’t hold back the tears.
My son has proudly worn his Maccabeats signed t-shirt to school and told friends about “his” concert. And thanks to the beat-box demonstration that the group taught the kids in the audience, he now chants, “Boots-Cats! Boots-Cats!” along with the beat in all of the Maccabeats songs. And, his inner soundtrack is expanding: Since the concert, I’ve caught him singing “Let It Go” and “Imagine” all to himself.
Yesterday, I got a chance to sneak a peek at my son during his school music class, and I saw him sitting upright, surrounded by friends, shaking a handmade tambourine and singing along. Sure, in his version of “Yellow Submarine” the submarine was alternating from purple to orange to magenta, but his voice was loud and clear. My kid will always be marching to a different beat, but I’m just so happy to see him joining in on the song! Thanks, Maccabeats!