Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Parenting With Pop Music

I have made two startling discoveries about myself in the last few years. These have nothing to do with mysterious lumps.

The first is that I have friends. Actual, real-life people whose company I enjoy and who appear to enjoy mine. People who, for whatever reasons, seek me out rather than just tolerate my presence. It has taken rigorous mental training on my part to stop wondering what kind of massive interpersonal issues they must have to want to be my friend and have more or less just accepted that some people just have eclectic tastes.

The second discovery hinges on the first. On occasion, these friends not only seek out my company, but my advice. Again, there is a tremendous amount of internal self-control involved on my part not to ask them if perhaps they don't know anyone else or if they are just trying to make me feel better by pretending that I might know something about being a human.

Several of my friends have children who are younger than mine, so to add horror upon horror, they ask for parenting advice sometimes. I look around to make sure they are talking to me and then proceed to tell them that I know nothing about the things they are asking. It occurred to me today as I was puttering around my garage with toxic chemicals that it's not that I don't know anything, it's just that they are asking me the wrong questions.

How did you handle potty training? Well, the jBird potty trained herself and the Hooligan pooped on his own foot one day by mistake and was so horrified that he never used his diaper again.

How did you wean your children? I went out for coffee while my husband held them and cuddled them through the withdrawal and they went to sleep.

How do you get them to eat their vegetables? I feed them fruit and hope they discover the wonders of kale instead of beer in college.

How do you get them to clean their rooms? I chase them with the vacuum cleaner.

How did you get them to sleep through the night in their own beds? They are supposed to do that?!

No, all of these standard, run-of-the-mill kinds of normal parenting things are still a mystery to me and I have nothing useful to offer anyone who comes to me looking for a bona fide system or sticker charts or honestly, I don't know what.

I had a lengthy conversation with a friend just the other day whose children are four-years-old and seven months. We chatted about a lot of things, but she's a planner, so she's looking ahead to when her children are the same ages as mine and peppered me with questions about the practicalities of daily life. Never once did she ask me which song I use to get my kids out the door to the bus in the morning. Nor did she ask me which song I preferred for settle-down time in the evening. She didn't even ask what our cooking song was.

How do people parent without pop music?

I am not a morning person. It takes at least three cups of coffee to get me up to my fighting speed. When there are breakfasts and lunches to be made, homework folders to be signed, and shoes to be found, sometimes the coffee has to wait. My Hooligan is much the same way, except without the coffee (come on! I'm not that bad a mom!) The jBird is relentlessly awake in the mornings and getting her off to school has never been an issue. Mostly it involved her standing by the door, ready to go with her backpack on while I stumbled around looking for some pants to wear. When the Hooligan started this year, I was shocked to discover that he was a little less eager to be up and at 'em in the mornings. After a few weeks of tears and "I can't do it" and all that, I decided that I needed to get a hold of myself.

One morning, the Hooligan was explaining to me that he couldn't find two shoes that matched, so he had to just stay home today and I explained right back - No way, José. He insisted We can't make it to the bus in time. I insisted We can. And, because he's in Kindergarten and they encourage curiosity (of all things!) he asked Why? As I answered him on infuriating maternal autopilot Because we can, some kind of random, pre-coffee brain tumbler fell into place and a new tradition was born. Every morning at 8:07 on the dot, I reach for my iPod that's connected to the speaker in my kitchen and press play on Because We Can, Fatboy Slim's raucous can-can number from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. No matter what the monkeys are doing, they stop and shimmy and jiggle and dance to their shoes and into their backpacks and out the door as soon as they hear the first crashing notes. No more yelling, no more tears, lots more dancing and Jim Broadbent re-mixed over a dance beat. What's not to love?

My children are not exactly sure how old I am. On a Mother's Day activity at school recently, my Hooligan listed my favorite food as lasagna (which makes me gag) and said I liked to wear shorts (which I hate and never do). The jBird thinks that I have never had a job other than to clean up her messes and forgets sometimes that I have a brother. But if you ask either of them, they can unequivocally, without a doubt, tell you that my favorite ABBA song is Super Trouper. So much so, that I received a Star Wars themed card from the Hooligan with a large picture of a Stormtrooper which he explained he drew especially for me because it's a "Super trooper". They also know that when they hear that opening falsetto with lovely Swedish cadence, it's time for them to decide which of them will get the napkins and which one will get the silverware to set the table for dinner.

Justin Townes Earle or Lucero means that Mama's feeling weepy and nostalgic.
Eminem means that Mama probably has writer's block.
The Beastie Boys mean that Mama's working in the yard and The National means Mama is lost in thought.
Fitz and the Tantrums means that we're probably all in for some house cleaning.

I will never be invited to host a radio call-in show to give practical answers to everyday parenting questions. I frequently leave my friends scratching their heads and wondering how on earth I'm even allowed near children. Hospitals and community service centers will likely never hold Tangled Lou Method classes for new parents. But the other day as my kitchen filled with sunshine and the smell of dinner on the stove, I hoisted up my baby girl who is now nearly as tall as I am so that we could touch the sky together and my son executed his strange, robotic white-boy dance moves around our ankles, I couldn't help but feel the lyrics of our new "Bad Day Reset Song".

'Cause I'm on top of the world, 'ay
I'm on top of the world, 'ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I've been waiting to smile, 'ay
Been holding it in for a while, 'ay
Take it with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child

And I know it's hard when you're falling down
And it's a long way up when you hit the ground
Get up now, get up, get up now.

And another startling discovery about myself: while my methods may be unorthodox and don't translate well into practical advice for others, I may know at least a little something about this parenting thing after all. 


  1. First pupil signing up for Tangled Lou parenting classes. Where and when, but is ABBA an essential part of the course (please don't hate me for that!!)

    I love music and so do my girls but I have never thought to use one to distract the other and condition them into an action (almost reminds me of Pavolv's Dogs, maybe you are smarter than you give your self credit for!!) Thanks for sharing this and reminding me we are all different and there is no right answer!!

    1. It is exactly like Pavlov's dogs! In fact, I call them my little Pavlovian puppies because it's so funny to watch the operant conditioning in action.

      The beauty of the Tangled Lou Method is that it works with whatever music works for you and your family. No ABBA required! (Well, except that I can't fathom why you wouldn't want to involve ABBA?!)

  2. We should start a club. My sons know very little about me and express even less interest (You're writing a BOOK???!!" they said recently, after this had been true for about a year.) However, because of me, they know about Primus, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus, Slayer, and, additionally, my teenager is unable to shock me with Eminem.

    It might be just a little bit bad that when my youngest went off to preschool, he often did so singing, "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor! Let the Bodies Hit the Floor!"

    1. The trick is to pick music that appeals to them... I'm often shocked at what does, though. The Richard Cheese version of "Welcome to the Jungle" comes to mind...

      Let the bodies hit the floor, indeed.

  3. I think they don't ask about the music because it's too personal. Everybody has their own favorites.
    Nice that you found a 'get the heck out the door' song that they react to.

    1. It is nice. It saves me from turning into a nagging banshee in the morning. In fact, when I forget to play it, they ask "Where's our song?" It's a beautiful thing.

  4. When my mom would put on The Holy Bible record by the Statler Brothers, my sisters and I would beg her to turn it up loud as we grabbed our dust clothes and broom and got busy cleaning. It was our clean up the house music! My husband thinks this is hilarious because it is an obscure record he believes nobody else every listened too except our family!

    1. What a fantastic memory! Thank you so much for sharing it. It is kind of funny to think of the Statler Brothers as cleaning music. That's what makes it so wonderful, though! It's all so personal and strange. My dad used to play bagpipe music to wake us up in the mornings and sing "Chantilly Lace" to us when we got home from school. I sometimes wonder what bits and pieces my kids will take out into their adulthood with them.

  5. I'm over my head in pregnancy junk, but I missed you, so I came puttering around. This post made me laugh because you are one of my favorite people to ask parental advice from. Genius, really. This is just living proof of why. Thank you for being out there somewhere in the ethereal internets so I can come find you.

  6. I love this and can very much identify--my parents' and grandparents' pop music selections are embedded in me at a cellular level and I have proudly gone on to embed some of my own in my children.

    Semi-related ABBA side note: my grandfather, who was a gruff old sumbitch, loved, loved, loved ABBA's "Fernando" and "I Have A Dream" and would make me pick the needle back up on my record and play them again for him. As you commented above--musical tastes can indeed be surprising.


Thanks for reading and taking the time to say hello!