The Fight for Connection
Driving down Lake City Way, one of my provincial main drags, I was surprised to hear all my children suddenly join in on a chorus: wish we could turn back time\ to the good old day-ays\ when the mama sang\ us to sleep when I was stressed OUut
I know now (all too well) that the song is "Stressed Out" by Twenty One Pilots, but back in June when all those adorbsies chanted along I was clueless. I'd heard the song before (we're big radio listeners), but I couldn't believe how the kids had picked it up. "Where did you guys learn to sing that? Do you do it at school or something?" "Nope. We just hear it in the car." I was amazed that it had grabbed them like that. I can sing every word now (we'll get to that), but I wasn't too impressed myself.
Coming home from an evening out, I'm always eager to get the report. "How'd it go? Bedtime OK?" Brendan said, "Yeah, it was good actually. The kids just kept asking Alexa to play that 'Hall of Fame' song, and they sang and danced around together all night." One of our buddies from school had introduced us to the tune a few days earlier, and again these peeps were hooked. Although, I love me some Will.i.am (mostly thanks to his "Mir.i.am" performance), I'd never heard of The Script, and again, this was not my jam. But it is now.
Just like the theme to "Dinosaur Train" became my jam. Just like before that the tunes from the Mozart Magical Music Cube were my jam(s).
I remember playing songs from my radio-grabbed mix-tapes for my mom on the way to ballet once. She was so obviously pleased that I wanted her to hear my stuff I liked. I could tell that she could take it or leave it, but she was happy I was including her. Looking back I crack-up to remember that the song for this scene was "Little Plastic Castles" by Ani Difranco. Glad my mom didn't read to far into that one. Would have definitely been confusing.
For his birthday, we gave Ezra my old iPod all loaded up with songs mostly from our college days (so, obviously the best stuff ever. Thing is: we listened to a lot of stuff from the 60s-90s in addition to the du jour. I feel Ezra's musical education is off to a great start.). We added new stuff too. He asked for Sandra McCracken albums to give him peace at night (HEART HEART HEART). And we put "Stressed Out" and "Hall of Fame" on there before he had to even ask. Starting around age 8, in our experience, kids become way less impressed by their parents. But, he was impressed with our incredible taste and foresight. SCORE.
You better believe I have listened to those songs at least a hundred times at this point. I know every word. These kids are my darlings. I'm climbing through any open window into their minds and hearts. Some kids crack open easily; some spill their guts until they go to school and then snap shut; some are enigmatic from day one. You take what you can get, and you better pray about the rest. For my moody, contemplative kid, these songs mean something. The other kids pick their playlists for danceability, but this guy is thinking. always. about everything. unless he's thinking.
Remember the Mozart Magic Music Cube? Good. It is the one toy aside from a good, wooden teether that I highly recommend. He loved that thing. We played together with it for MINUTES at a time (You know. Babies.). Once a WFH friend came over to get some stuff done while I watched our similarly age babies. I crouched there on the blanket with the immobile, little pupae and played with them nearly the whole time she worked. I showed them black and white flash cards. I rocked the MMMC. "Do you always play like this with him?" I was confused, "You mean do the flash cards." "Well, yeah. The whole thing. Do you sit and play like this when there aren't two babies?" "Oh. Yeah. Well, for a while each day. It's not all I do." But, it was a lot of what I did. (I'm not making any assertion here that the "right" way to parent is to lie on blankets staring and cooing at your infant. So, just don't worry about that. Descriptive here, not prescriptive.) The next three kids did not get a blanket play-time partner, not like he did. (They did get an adoring older sibling or two, or three. GREAT trade.) My little firstborn side-kick and I connected through play, shared experiences, likes, and dislikes. Other bonding opportunities (like nursing) hit snags. He was my friend from his earliest days, and I adjusted to the shocking loneliness of motherhood by talking to him non-stop. As soon as he could respond with words, he did. I tell him all the time that I truly do not recall ever talking to him about something that he did not truly try to understand. This is still the case. But, now he's a big kid, and the responses have become stereotypically clipped. His experiences, play, likes, and dislikes have appropriately branched out from mine. I miss that connection that we had. Oh, how I wish I could anticipate his every need and reaction like I did back then.
Hold up. Did I just write that I could anticipate his EVERY need? What a load of crap. Parenting is always hard, and kids are a constant mystery from day 1. HOWEVER, hindsight is 20/20 indeed, and looking back I can give myself credit for being a loving, attentive, and attuned mother. Had you asked me then to grade myself, I would have been highly critical. Can you guess how I'd grade myself now? It's still harsh. OH, Perspective, help us all! Also, while I'm on a caveat/get-real-lady paragraph, your kids, I know, aren't born to be your friends. I hope that when they are adults, we will be friends, and we are friends now. But mostly, I'm the mother. It's different, and very important, and one cannot parent well if friendship is the primary goal. Perspective now (slightly) corrected, let's continue.
The point is to fight for connection. I have my limits. For example, I stinkin' hate to play board games. Ask any friend or vague acquaintance. (If I have played a game with you, it means I love you very, very much.) Guess what? Ez loves to play games. While I draw the line at learning how to play Dungeon and Dragons (for now. I'm bound to cave.), we fight still for connection, and I play games. We search Math'n'Stuff for games we can all enjoy. I learn the names of the Pokémon (kinda). I learn the words to the songs. And then I try to ask nonchalant questions related to the songs and listen carefully to the answers.
Our three Summer jams connect (the third one being Sandra McCracken's "We Will Feast"). Each song conveys wistfulness for comfort, peace, and unity. I can sing along with that. They each express a loneliness for which the singer either hopes or claims there is a solution. I can sing along with that. They each drip with aspiration of one kind or another and hope. I can sing along with that. I think "Hall of Fame" has the effect that "I Believe I Can Fly" had back in the day. It's OK to believe in yourself. Heck, it's a necessity. But, that can't be all there is. "Hall of Fame" is benign, and it encourages me to hear my kids chant along with the "positive message" (sheesh, I'm sounding seriously parental...). I'm glad that the Twenty-One Pilots song is a good companion track. "Now, I'm insecure, and I care what people think." Yes. Now we are talking. He misses the smell and feel of playing with his family and the comfort he got from his mother. Yes. Go with that! Mothers are good. Mothers are gooood. Mooootheeerrrrs aaaare goooooood. I like the honesty and reality portrayed in that song, and I like how he does it too. Its got it's pessimism, but he's working it out, not wallowing.
In an interview with Charlie Rose*, Christopher Guest of Waiting for Guffman and Spinal Tap fame describes how he finds it so fascinating to dig into the worlds portrayed in his films. I get it. The creativity and possibilities for connection displayed by humanity are infinite. I hesitate over the word "infinite," but I'm going with it. I believe we are made by an infinite God, so our reflections of him may be infinite too. Will I ever truly be stoked about D&D? I can't picture it, but, hey, they got me belting "Hall of Fame" over here. Anything is possible.
*Interview available on YouTube!