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To the Little Girl Singing Her Heart Out

Photograph by Twenty20

We were in the final hours of an 11-hour road trip. The sky overhead was inky blackness, and the two-lane highway before us stretched into the horizon. I was sure both my kids had succumbed to sleep. I was just about to pick a Ted Talk or podcast about creativity or national security that would appeal to me and my husband.

Then, I heard a voice from the back seat.

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"Mama, can you play 'This Land Is Your Land'?"

My 6-year-old daughter must have found her second wind, because she sounded like she had just pounded a cup of black coffee.

"Sure, baby." I flipped through the CDs and popped in our beloved Americana folk songs. Secretly, I was grateful she didn't request something grating like this horrible princess CD we have that makes my ear drums bleed.

I want to believe that she'll always have the confidence and willingness to raise her voice no matter what forces conspire against it.

I pushed play and reclined in my seat, hoping that at least one of us could get a little shut eye.

From the very first note, my daughter was belting her heart out. The pure joy and confidence in her voice was staggering. I sat up in my seat and caught a glimpse of her in the rearview mirror. She was looking out in the window, earnestly singing as if she didn't have a care in the world. She didn't seem to notice that she flubbed some of the verses or that my husband and I were listening to her.

Nope, she was in her own little world, lost in the joy of her voice and the music.

Without skipping a beat, she rolled right into the next song. There, too, I heard the pure joy and lack of self-consciousness that I don't recall having in the presence of others when I was a kid. I don't have it often now even as an adult. I don't feel qualified to sing like that, even in the shower. I struggle to find my voice, both speaking and singing.

She sang eight songs and finally petered out and went to sleep. She never noticed that I was listening to her, swelling with love and pride at her audacious willingness to sing so fervently.

I wasn't in awe of her talent, because, frankly, she's a little pitchy. It wasn't her command of the lyrics either, because she only knew about 70 percent of them.

It was something else that struck me that night, something I'm terrified will slip away from her as she ventures out into the big, wide world, where women's voices (and bodies and rights) are not always welcomed or treated with respect.

It was her freedom—the freedom to sing at the top of her lungs, not as a performance for anyone, but because she enjoyed the sound of her own voice. And I want her to hold on to that freedom and that confidence as long as she can. I want her to carry that into the board rooms, courtrooms, pitch meetings, auditions—whatever rooms she ends up in 10 or 20 years from now. I don't want to give in to the idea that this culture of ours that wants to strip grown women of their reproductive rights, while sexualizing pre-teens, will rob her of what I saw and heard that night.

No, I want to believe that she'll always have the confidence and willingness to raise her voice no matter what forces conspire against it.

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Even if it wavers or is driven underground temporarily, I'll remember that she had it at 6. I heard it with my own ears. And I'll fight like hell to be sure she finds a world that will appreciate it as much as I do.

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