“Mom, it would be cool to sing the national anthem at a ballpark sometime,” Noah said dreamily from the back seat.
“Do you know the words?” I asked him.
He took a deep breath and launched into the song.
I’m not musical. At all. I never learned to read music and don’t play an instrument. My singing experience consists of one turn as Minnie Fay in an eighth-grade production of “Hello, Dolly,” very quiet Sunday morning hymn contributions, minivan sing-alongs and random song bursts on our podcast. When my kids do anything musical, amazement and delight surround me. He nailed the first few lines and my heart sang along.
And then ...
“Oh the landlords we watched, were so gallantly steaming…”
“Ramparts, and gallantly streaming,” I interrupted.
“Oh … what’s a rampart?”
“The high wall of a castle or fort — protects it,” I answered. “Keep going, you’re doing great.”
“Aaand the rocket’s red flare …”
“Mom, do you want to correct me or let me sing it the way I know it?”
“The second one,” I confessed. “Start again?”
So he did, landlords and red flares and all. Soon he raised his voice loud and proud, “For the laaand of the freeee, and the home (dramatic pause) of the ( another dramatic pause
We had just pulled into the garage, I threw the car into park and clapped wildly, “Play ball!”
“But I messed up the words,” he said as we walked inside.
I mussed his hair, “People mess up lyrics all the time.”
“What have you messed up?”
“Everything, Son,” I mumbled as a wave of missteps flooded my memory. “Oh, lyrics? Lots. There is …,” but only one came to mind and it was a little naughty so I didn’t want to say it. “Um, I can’t think of them right now,” I tap danced around the subject, “but it happens a lot. I don’t dwell on it, just laugh at myself and move on. I think that if you sing the wrong lyrics with heart, like you did in the car, that’s what’s important to a song — conviction.”
Then I told him what conviction meant.
He gave up all his Star Spangled Banner intel: That it was written by Francis Scott Key at, “that battle with the British in 18-something.”
“Pretty close, the War of 1812. He was watching a battle from a boat while Fort McHenry was being attacked. We won, by the way. Did you know that there are four stanzas, like song paragraphs? We only sing the first one, which is good because the words get more confusing later. Lots of chances for mistakes.”
I often laugh at myself and openly admit mistakes. Do others? In what is quite possibly the least scientific method possible, I took it to a group of test subjects: my Facebook friends. Did they ever flub lyrics like Noah did?
Oh yeah, they did. But unlike me they could remember them. I learned a few things from that conversation:
• Few people sing the real words to “Blinded by the Light.”
• When my friends mess up lyrics, they usually end up in Naughtyland.
• I mess up more than I had previously thought.
But the strongest lesson was that in my group of accomplished and smart friends — a group that I suspect mirrors society in a number of ways — they all mess up, aren’t shy about admitting it and, most importantly, they can laugh about it. Certainly that helps to make this our home of the great.
(And Noah will be singing the national anthem with his class at a T-Bones game later this spring.)