Joanne Costantino: Christmas in July: the Miracle of Music

“Why, Who makes much of a miracle?

As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

It was the middle of July and after a long day of work and errands. I was stationed in the kitchen preparing dinner.

My grandson, Mikey, was sitting in a saucer seat that bounced and had a sling seat that held him up, and let him spin in place, but he didn’t have that kind of mobility. With a traumatic brain injury from Shaken Baby abuse, Mikey was developmentally delayed.

With brain injuries there is no instruction manual to gauge potential or progress, especially in babies. Our everyday was filled with either anxious anticipation that he would make another benchmark of progress or ambivalent acceptance that there was no new development for this 18 month old baby who so fat and happy we called him BuddhaMan because when we propped him upright he sat just like a Happy Buddha.


While preparing dinner, I thought I heard a melodic and repetitive sound coming from him as he rocked side to side in his seat. My daughter Chris, Mike’s mom, noticed when I stopped in the middle of dinner prep and I leaned down toward his seat. Chris asked, “What’s the matter?”

“I think he’s singing,” I said.

Chris poo-pooed me in disdain, saying, “He can’t sing. He can’t even talk. You’re imagining things.” It was one of those days where she wasn’t so much disappointed, just ambivalent. I tried to be sympathetic when she was in these moods. It had to be spirit crushing to give birth to this beautiful baby and then have him brutalized by the person she loved. My constant mantra to her was, “We’re in this together,” trying to be supportive. But she was jaded and felt cheated and not open to miraculous possibilities.

I squatted down next to him and listened while he continued to rock side to side and making not so much a humming sound but more like a “huhhuhuuuhh, huhhuhhuuuhh”, but the there was definite melody to the sounds. He giggled and continued.

“I think he’s singing Jingle Bells!”

“No. He’s. Not. Where would he even get that from?” she asked. “It’s JULY! You WISH he was singing.”

“I still think he’s singing,” I said dismissively and went back to my dinner preparation.

The next day, I got a phone call from a very excited Chris. “You were right, Mom. He WAS singing Jingle Bells! They’re celebrating Christmas in July in daycare! They’re playing Christmas songs and movies! He’s SINGING!”

Music and this little miracle of an everyday activity in his daycare made something ‘click’ and sparked his capacity for speech. We knew where to go from there by singing more than speaking and he began to speak from that point on. There were many other instances when we thought Mikey might have topped out at progressing developmentally, but they were always negated by yet another breakthrough, where we got the message that there was more work to do with him. That was seventeen years ago.

Mike has a very melodic speaking and singing voice, but with adolescence, he won’t sing with people around. But he does sing with me when we are driving around. His favorites are Carly Simon’s “Mocking Bird” with James Taylor and Sarah McLachan’s “Angel,” which we sang to him as we rocked him while he was recovering and every evening at bedtime.

Sometimes Mike will ask me to pop in the Sarah McLachlan CD while we’re driving and naturally I do. There is no sweeter sound than this beautiful young man singing along with me, “You’re in the arms of the angels, May you find some comfort here.”

me and Buddha

Joanne Costantino is a Philly girl and “cafeteria Catholic” laywoman living in the wild suburbs of South Jersey, where she still pines for city life. She graduated from college in 2008, two weeks shy of the birth of her 4th grandchild. The “accidental matriarch” of a life she didn’t sign up for, Joanne chronicles that life at

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