The “Sunshine” of My Life
My daughter had just said “Dad, I want sing in talent show. Sing, You Are My Sunshine… You play guitar for me?”
I did not think this was going to be a good idea. “Dad mode” kicked in and came over me and I began seeing a mental picture of her standing in front of the school now in 6th grade singing that song. I have seen some talent shows over the last couple of years and they are normally filled with kids singing the latest pop song or at least trying to sing. If you’re good then you are a star, and if you fail sometimes a crowd of your peers at that age can be pretty brutal. Add to this, the “hard of hearing--thing” that makes singing such a challenge anyway. I have heard her sing before, she does not match pitch, and she can not hear the accompaniment to keep the right sense of timing. With this adventure she is going to be showcasing that up in front of the school. I thought to myself “Is she really up for this . . . am I really up for this? I want to protect her, but she wants to SING, I want to try and shield her from the cruelty of the world, she wants to embrace the world and express herself. More than once in the process she would say to me after she finished singing ‘Dad, I so happy!’ How can a Dad say no to that?” I just prayed and hoped for the best.
The audition day came and I contacted the music teacher and explained that Karie wanted to sing and I’d be accompanying her on the guitar. When we arrived, the room was full of kids. Karie and I sat and watched two or three kids do their thing. There was a little guy doing an Elvis impression complete with the jump suit and the curled lip singing Suspicious Minds. Very cute. He was hamming it up, having fun and the kids were all laughing with him. “Thank you, thank you very much” he said as he finishes up. Then the teacher stepped up and explained that it was not easy to get up in front of your peers and that the class needs to show a great deal of respect to the performers who were coming to audition. Perhaps this was a preemptive strike on our behalf, or perhaps just the rules for all the people who audition. Either way, she called for Karie and me to come up and sing next.
We went up and I begin to play, she begins to sing. . . “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine”. . . I am thinking, here we go, sweetheart, we are doing this. “You make me happy, when skies are gray. . .Please don’t take my sunshine away.” When she finished, the class applauded and the teacher said some nice words to Karie and me. We packed up the guitar and I took Karie back to class. We will see, I thought; she got lost in the verse and her pitch and timing were off, of course, but she made it through. Hopefully she will make the show. And make it she did.
The talent show was scheduled for the next to the last day of school about a week later. I arrived at the school and headed to a very long room that serves as a cafeteria, multi-purpose room, gymnasium and auditorium all in one. The entire school was there plus teachers and faculty and about 200 parents and grandparents as well. I would say that there were at least 800 to 900 people in the room. I tried to imagine my little 4’ 8” tall girl standing in front of this massive crowd and singing. Now I am used to being up in front of crowds like this, so I was personally okay with it; but for any child, a crowd that size is very intimidating, and the thought of what it would be like for my child was agonizing to me.
Since the audition, Karie’s mom and I had worked out getting a picture of her puppy dog, Kris Allen, blown up so she could sing to the picture as the “Sunshine” of her life. I figured that if we could not capture their hearts with voice and talent, we could at least play up the cute factor. My thought processes can be so wrong sometimes. Perhaps it is my training as a music student in college and grad school that came into play here or too many times watching Simon on American Idol crush someone, but I wanted to try and figure out a way to help her touch these people--this massive crowd.
Our turn was up . . . we made our way up to the stage. Someone handed Karie the microphone and I took a chair close to her and I begin to strum. She stood there, tiny and twisted from the scoliosis affecting her spine/out of tune and off-sync from the hearing loss, but the words were strong and resolute as she sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” Words can’t accurately paint the feelings that welled up inside of me at that moment. There she was in front of the entire crowd singing a simple little song, singing a song that captures the essence of my heart. My little girl is so brave. . . there is not an ounce of fear in her. “Please don’t take my sunshine away!” she concludes. The entire room just erupts, people are cheering, teachers and parents are tearing up and Dad is getting a little misty-eyed as well as he is helping her walk back to her seat. The emcee for the talent show, a young male teacher, jumps up and says to the crowd, “Who is on fire?” And all the kids yell back “Karie is on fire!” Then he says, “That’s right, and we had better hose her off!” and the kids all extended their arms as if they were human fire hoses to Karie and made a “Shhhhhhhhhhhhh” sound to put her out. Funny thing is Karie missed it all. She did not even get what her classmates were doing, but she did turn to me and say “Daddy, I so happy! Thank you Daddy!” “You are welcome sweetheart, you are very welcome.”
That day our lives were full of sunshine! Truly it was a beautiful day with a very beautiful and special girl. I am so grateful that she has the courage to push me beyond a father’s fears and demonstrate to me, once again, just how special she is. Though I would never choose this pathway for her, it was not an accident or a plan gone wrong. I am learning to be thankful for the sunshine she brings to me each and every day . . . that she shares so lovingly and so freely. I am humbled by the impact that she makes on my life, and all the lives that witness her courage. I replay those words over and over in my mind “I so happy Daddy!” and it helps me to embrace the special gift she has brought to my life as I face my own fears and sing back to her, you are my sunshine.