When shouting sounds like angels singing

“You sound like angels.”

My grandmother spoke these words to my three sisters and I one Christmas morning when I was about seven. We weren’t singing Handel’s Messiah or even singing in key. We were screeching out various children’s Christmas songs in order to wake up our parents so that we might leave the shackles of our stairwell constraint and go open gifts in the family room.

You see, my parents’ rule was that we couldn’t go downstairs until they went down first. Reasons ranged from making sure Santa came to getting a better angle for the camcorder. I think they were hoping we’d wait upstairs quietly until they emerged freely from their bedroom. We had other ideas.

I’m not sure when we first started this tradition. Being the youngest, I more so went along for the ride rather than mastermind any schemes. But one Christmas morning, as we waited on the stairs, it was somehow decided that our parents would enthusiastically enjoy being woken up from their short slumber by our melodious voices. We started off singing well, but the only stirring my parents made was to move their mouths for song requests through their bedroom door. Drastic measures were needed. Gifts were waiting for our tiny hands to rip off the confines of their paper imprisonment and reveal them to the warmth of daylight and the touch of our thankful embrace. Apples and Bisquick were screaming for us to combine them into mouth-watering breakfast waffles. Snow had hardened itself perfectly on our sledding hill so as to help with our luge training. My parents need to get up. Now.

So we began to sing. Badly. Off key. High pitched. Even shouting out lyrics. (I’m sure my parents were glad there were two acres separating us from the neighbors, while also wondering if maybe more acres were needed.) Through this new round of a cappella karaoke, my dad’s mother appeared at the bottom of the kitchen, looked up at us, and told us how beautifully we were singing. Like angels.

At the time we brushed it off as one of those cheesy things grandparents say. But her words have stuck with us to this day, over two decades after she spoke them and almost a full decade after her death. This past Christmas, my family had the privilege of all twelve of us being together for the holiday. No easy feat when we live in various, plane-distant places in the US with one also coming from Germany. Present were my niece and two nephews, 6, 3, and 2, respectively. Not having any offspring to add to the mix ourselves, my husband and I sometimes find the noise that accompanies such wee-ones to be a little overpowering at times. Like when the boys were fighting over who got which train when. Or when the niece loudly broadcasted a story so as to be heard over any adult chatter.

But even in these moments, I found myself just watching them all connect. To see the next generation interacting with one another, loving on each other, and working through disagreements–basically, living life with one another–I began to understand how our cacophonous singing could have sounded like angels to my grandmother. It wasn’t about the mechanics or the lyrics, but it was about us collaborating with each other, enjoying each others’ company, and creating fun memories along the way. It’s music to any parent’s–or aunt’s–ears.

And now I know that that’s really what brought my parents out into the stairwell: hearing their daughters laughing and playing well together. To us kids, we just saw a winning formula to use for future years. (Which we did for another fifteen years plus.) To my parents, it was evidence of a strong sibling connection they knew would carry us through the years.

And so this past holiday, while my physical ears may have twinged whenever the decibels rose higher than comfortable, my soul’s ears basked in the love that exuded from hearing my niece and nephews playing, exploring, and enjoying each other and their world together. And that indeed does sound like angels’ singing.

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