Friday, February 10, 2012

When the weird things you do as a parent DON'T come back to haunt you

When my kids were little, we'd often play a game as I drove them places in the car. No, it wasn't anything as benign as "Twenty Questions" or license-plate Bingo. It went something like this:

"Honky-Tonk Women" comes on the radio. "Who is this?" I ask. "Rolling Stones!" Caroline, 3, shouts. "Who's their lead singer?" I ask. "Mick Jagger!" Scott, 6, yells in response. Then, anticipating my next question, he calls out, "And Charlie Watts plays the drums!"

I never pretended to be a conventional parent.

OK, I'm exaggerating. My household also was well-versed in Raffi, and the kids could sing Sharon, Lois and Bram's Skinnamarink in harmony. They sang in church, and, pre-High School Musical, they begged for every Disney video as soon as a new one came out. And they warbled along, of course, with Sesame Street and Barney. So we had the children's-music thing down pat.

But they loved their Stones and their Skynyrd; their dad occasionally threw in some country and bluegrass, and I countered that with Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks. When Caroline was 6, she couldn't read, but she could recreate, move by move, the Spice Girls' Wannabe video.

And we kept the car game going. On the way to dance or religious ed or hockey, my kids learned that it really wasn't Yoko's fault that the Beatles broke up. They knew the interpersonal tangles behind all the hits on Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Thanks to their dad, they knew the Judds didn't really get along all that well.

As the kids aged, they became less interested in the game, but something must have stuck. Scott grew to love alternative music, then hip-hop. Caroline loved anything that could be sung. Thanks to evolving Internet platforms, they learned to search for lyrics and bands and videos. Music played in the kitchen and the garage and the bathroom; it blasted outside as the kids jumped on the trampoline.

And now, the music they're making is their own. Scott writes for and raps with his own group. Caroline, coming off years of choruses and show choirs, is studying music education in college, and in about a year and a half, she'll be shaping young minds with the songs she loves.

The best part? A few weeks ago, Scott, needing a vocal boost for his band, asked Caroline to sing along. She's performed with the band twice now, with more dates to come. Making it big is Scott's dream, and that just might happen. But the best part, for me, is that once again, as in their Lion King days, they're harmonizing together.

And they're teaching me. Scott gives me CDs of his music, and Caroline tells me about new Broadway composers I might like. And just today, I was able to impress my son with the fact that not only do I know what Jurassic 5 was, but I know the names of at least three of its members. (My favorite? A guy named -- seriously -- Chali 2na.)

I can't take credit for my kids' musical talent; on their dad's side, Scott and Caroline come from a line of Southern-gospel singers who recorded records and toured the country. But I pat myself on the back when they instantly recognize Elton John on piano or Clapton on guitar.

As a parent, I was never short on ideas and enthusiasm, and I wanted -- as all parents do -- for the things that interested me to interest my kids. So they hooked rugs, collected rocks and buttons, and made spider webs out of tape (don't ask).

I think they would agree it's probably best that of all those things, it was the music that stuck.


  1. Love it. We do music trivia but it is the politics that is sticking with Liam (my oldest and really the only one who can speak very well). At his kindergarten walk through, he noticed a picture of Condi on the wall in the library. The Principal was giving the tour and stopped in her tracks when Liam said, "Look, Mommy. Condi Rice!" The Principal said, "Do you know who she is?" Liam looked at her and said, "Only the SOS under 43." I couldn't have been prouder. :)

  2. Sarah, that is too funny! Isn't it interesting, the things they pick up? Now that they're 23 and 20, it's easy for me to see aspects of my personality in my kids, as well as their dad's. But sometimes, one of them will say something that amazes me, and I think, "You really were listening all along."

  3. Well, he was immersed in it at an early age. When Dave was in Iraq and I was Co-Chair Polk GOP, Liam spent many hours at the RPI building, having free run of the place (and would get candy from everyone). Liam was my "date" to many events when I couldn't find a sitter. After daycare/work, we'd get home and he'd ask to watch "Fox Choose". He was 2. Poor kid. He'll either be my "troubled liberal" or try to start a Waukee High School Republicans Club. :)

  4. I love it! We have a lot of music in this house, too. My kids belt out Joan Jett and Meatloaf. Then switch to broadway show tunes and James Taylor. N is particularly interested in Beat boxing and will find the beat to just about anything. In church the weekend of MLK's b-day he began beat boxing to "We Shall Overcome"! LOL