I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon in the studio with my 15-year-old step-daughter Chloe. I recorded her singing a song that she has loved ever since her mother played it for her – “Little House” by Amanda Seyfried. It was featured in the movie Dear John.
Chloe loves to sing in front of people, to be the center of someone’s (anyone’s) attention. She absolutely lives to sing in front of her mother and I, and does most nights before she goes to bed.
Another salient fact: Chloe has only a very tenuous grasp of melody and rhythm. In the life of a special-needs child cast into a world of more typical children, there are so few moments of joy. When she launches into another of her favorite songs and sometimes gets so caught up in the moment that she adds a few impromptu gestures, and checks for our accepting smiles, she has a fleeting moment of pleasure. Perhaps the only one she has had that day.
And so it was in fulfillment of a promise made several months ago that I sat at my console and recorded Chloe singing seven takes of “Little House”. She sang like a trooper, though with each take Chloe’s voice and attention grew a little more fatigued, and that tenuous grasp began to slip.
My software allows me to clean up messy vocals – pitch, timing, all of that. And so I worked into the night – until about 1:30 AM, and I got through about half way the song. I was a man possessed.
Through the magic of software, I heard Chloe sing like never before.
Through the software, she nailed the timing. Her pitch was beautifully perfect. Her expression was innocent, yet powerful. I heard a girl who held a thousand wishes for a life beyond the challenges she was born with. “Little House” is a love song, and I heard an effervescent hope that one day someone would love her as a woman. I spent several hours listening to that girl that night, and I treasured being the one to bring her out where everyone could hear her for the first time.
When I awoke Sunday morning and as my wife (who went to bed at a sensible time) handed me a hot cup of coffee, the three of us headed into the studio to listen to what I had done. As the song played, tears leaked inexplicably from my eyes. It wasn’t until the coffee had soaked in a little that I understood why.
That girl I worked so hard to bring out last night sounded so mechanical, so automatic. She was not alive. She was a man-made thing. While the actual Chloe raved that she sounded like a rock star, all I could hear was the missing life – the essence of the girl who has been a part of my life for the last few years. The life that Chloe herself has in her.
As I had worked thought the night I had lived with a Chloe that had been fixed. She was no longer troubled. She was no longer a slave to her jagged emotions, her ADHD, and her learning disabilities. This was not a Chloe that struggled with empathy, had difficulty keeping friends, or lived in danger of school suspension. My manufactured Chloe was free of all of that. But this FrankenChloe was a chimera. I sat in the morning light with the real Chloe, and looked inside myself.
I saw clearly how hoping that she might one day be “fixed” makes me a step-dad who is unwilling to accept the child that is. It makes me someone with a standard to which she never quite measures up.
The real Chloe, with all of her life, her energy, her hopes of getting a new American Girl Doll for her birthday, demanding that we watch her multiple underwater somersaults in the pool, needing constant supervision and unflagging attention – that is the Chloe that we have. And THAT is the Chloe that is vibrantly alive.
That is the Chloe that I promised I would cherish and honor, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, when I made that vow to her mother. Although the voice on that song remains, much to the delight of my step-daughter, I realize again that I cannot fix this very real, incredibly alive girl. I realize again that she doesn’t actually need to be fixed. She needs to be loved, cherished, and honored.
I ask myself again – am I doing enough of that?
Update – January 15, 2015
Chloe’s song is finished!
You can listen to it here: