Not long ago, I rediscovered a tape of me and my mom singing together. We had made up the song together the night before Mother’s Day when I was about 7 or 8, and I recorded it on my Fisher Price tape player. Now at age 25 I treasure the song. It’s the only recording I have of my mom, who passed away from breast cancer when I was 11.
Rather than just letting the tape sit in my dresser drawer, I re-recorded the audio, made an MP3 version of it in iTunes and uploaded it to my blog using Podomatic. The song will no doubt make you laugh, and some of the lyrics won’t make any sense at all. But that’s what makes it so fun to listen to.
You can play the song below and read a related essay I wrote to help put the lyrics in context. I’ve included the song lyrics at the end of this post. As always, I welcome your feedback.
I hated going to bed as a little girl. Dad worked days and Mom worked nights, so she wasn’t usually there to kiss me goodnight. That changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She became too sick to go to work, so we started to spend as much time as we could together in the evenings. Going to bed got even harder.
Though Mom called me her “little girl,” I wanted to be a big girl. I’d curl up on the couch with her and we’d watch all the “grown-up shows” that made me the envy of my 8-year-old friends — “90210,” “Married with Children,” “In Living Color,” and yes, even “Melrose Place.”
Dad would pay bills or read his car magazines for a while and then get up to make us a snack. Jiffy Pop popcorn. Frozen green grapes. Mocha almond chip ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.
“Mallary, it’s time to go to bed,” Mom would say after we had finished eating.
I found multiple excuses to stay by her side.
“But Mom, I’m not tired.”
“But Mom, just 5 more minutes.”
“But Mommy, I don’t want to say goodnight.”
Really, I didn’t want to say goodbye.
Everyone tried to protect me and tell me Mom would be OK. But I still worried that one day I’d wake up and she’d be gone. So I tried to stay awake to savor every moment I could.
The day Mom died, all I wanted to do was go to bed. The hospice workers and family friends were gone by 7:30 p.m., leaving me and Dad in a house that no longer seemed like home. He turned on the TV just in time for the start of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Canned laughter ensued. As an 11-year-old, I wondered how people could be happy when it seemed the whole world should be sad.
Skipping snack time, I went to bed feeling empty. I pulled the covers over my head and stared into the darkness, hoping I’d wake up to find that what had happened that night was nothing but a bad dream. In denial, I pretended things were fine and told myself not to cry.
“Erase it from my mind, erase it from my mind,” I whispered, scratching my head and repeating a refrain that I often said when something bad happened. I didn’t know that, years later, everything I had temporarily erased would leave such a lasting mark.
“Do you want to talk, Mal?” Dad asked.
“No. I just want to be alone.”
Dad turned off the light. I peered out from under the covers, hoping he’d still be there. He kissed me on the forehead and stayed by my bed in silence.
When you’re 11 and your mom dies, you fear you’ll forget her. So you hold onto everything that is hers and look for ways to keep her memory alive. You write stories about her. You ask family members for details about her life. You dig up old home videos and tapes that help you make better sense of the woman she was — and the woman you may or may not want to become.
Recently, I stumbled across a tape of me singing with my mom. The night before Mother’s Day when I was 7 or 8 years old, I had asked Mom if we could have a singalong — partly because I wanted an excuse to stay up with her, but also because I wanted to play with my new, oh-so-cool Fisher Price tape recorder. It was the kind of toy that could make any little girl think she were good enough for Broadway.
I don’t remember what I told Mom, but it was probably something to the effect of, “So we’re going to make up a song together, OK? And I’m going to sing and then give you the mic and then you’re going to sing and we’ll take turns!” It’s hardly a surprise that I sang about not wanting to go to bed.
“Ohhhh I don’t want to go to bed! But it’s a school night you can see … I’ll see you on Mother’s Day, today is a very nice day and today I think I’ll be a movie star, wait and see.”
Listening to the song now, 17 years later, makes me think of Mom and smile.
So many of the memories I have of her are from when she was sick. I can hear the mean kids at school say, “Look! Mallary’s mom has no hair!” I can hear Mom calling for Dad’s help when she was too weak to get off the couch on her own. I can hear her crying the night she found out that the cancer had spread to her brain.
It’s harder for me to remember what Mom sounded like when she’d dance with a broom and sing her favorite songs while cleaning the house, or when she’d come to the front door and yell, “Mallaryyyyy. Come inside, hunny. Dinner’s ready!”
The tape helps me remember. It lets me replace the deafening silence of her death with the comforting sound of her voice: “Goodnight sweet Mallary, go to bed. I love you very much.”
I still wish Mom were here to tell me to go to bed. Every night I tell myself I need to go to bed early, but I hardly ever heed my own advice. My dad and I talk about our night-owl tendencies from time to time, admitting that we wish we could go back to a time when “staying up late” meant going to bed at 8:30 p.m. Sometimes, we say, we wish Mom were here to tell us goodnight. And yet we’ve learned that sometimes, you have to settle for good enough.
So I listen to the tape to hear Mom’s voice and to remind myself that she would want me to take better care of myself by getting more rest. She’d want me to keep developing my voice, too — as a writer, as a young woman and as someone who unabashedly sings while in her apartment and her car. This past weekend as I was driving over the Howard Frankland bridge to Tampa, I flipped through the radio stations and stopped on “Love Shack” — one of Mom’s favorites. I belted it out and thought of me and her singing our favorite part together.
“Bang, bang, bang on the door, baby. You’re what? Tin roof … rusted!”
The next song I heard was Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You,” which Mom dedicated to me before she died. I could feel the goosebumps forming. The song, which I hadn’t heard in months, often comes on the radio when I’m thinking about Mom or when I’m having a hard time. She’s always been good at sending me signs. Driving over the water, my hair blowing in the wind, I sang the message she wanted me to take away from the song:
“I will remember you. Will you remember me? Don’t let your life pass you by. Weep not for the memories.”
Sometimes I still weep, and that’s ok. I’ve gotten to the point where I can also laugh — when I think of Mom bobbing her head to “Love Shack” or when I hear her singing our mother-daughter song. These memories remind me that even though my mom’s not here anymore, she’s still very much a part of my life. The older I get, the more I realize I’ll always be mommy’s little girl.
Here are the lyrics:
Me: You can tell I told you that a million times, but I tried to tell you the right reason why, ‘cuz here’s my mother and she’ll sing tonight. And here she is, we’re watching “In Living Color” Tonight. Here she is …
Mom: Well I’m waiting for Dad to get out of the shower so we can have some coffee together. Then we’ll relax and read the paper and we’ll talk about today’s news. So I’ll say goodnight to Mallary, Mallary, she has to go to bed. I love her so dearly, yes I do indeed, Mallary it’s time to go to bed.
Me: Ohhhh I don’t want to go to bed! But it’s a school night you can see, so all my mothers and dads will not compare to me. Cuz I’ll see you on Mother’s Day, today is a very nice day and today I think I’ll be a movie star, wait and see. And here’s my mom and she’ll sing to you this song. I don’t know what it is but I think it’s a good song. Here’s my mom.
Mom: Goodnight sweet baby, I’ll tell you a story before you go to bed. I love you so dearly I hate to see you away from me. But I’ll sing this song to you. Goodnight sweet Mallary go to bed, I love you very much. See you tomorrow. Have a nice dream.
Me: Then I’ll see you tomorrow and then we’ll have breakfast eggs and an English muffin. Tonight I had two snacks and I had good snacks too. We’re recording this song and it is a long song too. But it’s good, you knew, that that’s true, today is a nice day out, you know. You know, I tried to pull my pants up by my shirt so I could get cooled down. You know, by my shirt. And I had a pink shirt on, I tricked my dad by going in on this song. Well, here’s my mom, you can tell that’s true, here she is you don’t know what she’s gonna do. Oh ma, come on!
Mom: I’ll sing her song again, I’ll have to say goodnight to you. Goodnight and sweet dreams, I’ll end this song. Goodnight to you and God above.
Me: This is the last song and I’ll be singing it. And it is almost time to go to bed. That you can see is why I’m ahead. I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet but I will now. So bye, bye, bye for now.