All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Classic Rock

Life's encyclopedia.

Life’s encyclopedia.

If you celebrate enough birthdays (even if you are “forever 39”), you learn a few things. But where did all this wisdom come from? Turns out there is a fourth R — Reading, wRiting, aRithmatic and Rock.

Turns out all I really need to know I learned from classic rock.

If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.
(Hold On Loosely, .38 Special)

Better recognize your brothers, everyone you meet.
(Instant Karma, John Lennon)

Hold on to 16 as long as you can. Changes come around real soon make us women and men.
(Jack and Diane, John Mellancamp)

The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.
(Subdivisions, Rush)

Maybe it’s not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate.
(Crazy Train, Ozzy Osbourne)

The love you take is equal to the love you make.
(The End, The Beatles)

And it came to pass that rock-n-roll was born.
(Let There Be Rock, AC/DC)

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.
(Dust In The Wind, Kansas)

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
(Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell)

Time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me.
(Time Waits For No One, The Rolling Stones)

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed, now. It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen.
(Stairway to Heaven, Led Zepplin)

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.
(War, Edwin Star)

I hope the Russians love their children too.
(Russians, Sting)

It doesn’t really matter which side you’re on. You’re walking away, and they’re talking behind you.
(New Kid In Town, The Eagles)

The problem is all inside your head.
(50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon)

Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned.
(Just A Song Before I Go, Crosby, Stills & Nash)

I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.
(Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen)

Send it off in a letter to yourself.
(Rikky Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan)

There’s too many places I’ve got to see.
(Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd)

There ain’t no Coup de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
(Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Meat Loaf)

So teach your children well, GenX, and keep that throwback rock station on the presets. It’s called classic for a reason.

 

Photo credit — http://www.freeimages.com/Andras Unger

Gen X as slacker parents — not so much.

Does this look like the child of a slacker?

Does this look like the child of a slacker?

This morning, I was watching a segment on The Today Show featuring Jessica Lahey, an education and parenting writer, and Wendy Mogel, a family psychologist and author, on the importance of creativity. One of the guests commented on how offering creativity boosters like free play goes against the current trend of days filled with structured activities.

How ironic — the generation known for being slackers is raising its children with an intensity that appears to be unparalleled by previous generations.

As soon as Gen Y graduated into an awful economy, they became the hopeless unemployed basement dwellers who feasted off their parents’ generosity. But let’s not forget our roots. We were the original lazy generation, though no one accused us of being coddled by the latch-key lifestyle of many of our formative years. Yet, I’m sure the phrase, “They aren’t willing to put in the hard work,” has been uttered about every generation when they entered the workforce, especially those gifted with poor job prospects.

Research does show us, though, that each generation has some defining characteristics, and Gen X is supposed to be filled with free thinkers who value family and personal time. And I know that as we matured into our parenting years concepts like “free range parenting” and the like gained notice (though maybe not popularity). But so has the “helicopter parent.” So what’s behind the intensity of the current parenting generation’s practices?

Not only are our kids over-scheduled (which, in turn, suffocates our families and ourselves with commitments), but we do things like put them in sports leagues that require incredible amounts of practice time, increasing their risk of injury to growing bones and joints, or sign them up for other endeavors meant to help them stand out among their peers. I used to work with an orthopedic surgeon who said he does procedures on teenagers that were previously only done on ex-athletes whose joints wore out in middle age. Where I live (and I think it’s the same in other major urban school districts), kids test into the good public high schools, which means that they spend their middle school years being tutored on top of their normal academics and have to hope that they won’t get an A- in gym, which would sink their GPA too low to compete. This kind of thing is only good if you are in the business of test prep or treating anxiety disorders.

Some of this is forced upon us, such as the choice between spending the equivalent of a college education on a private high school or tutoring and test-prepping your child for a shot at a good free education (something most of us were raised to expect in this country). Work schedules make it tough for some people to offer blocks of free time in one’s bedroom or backyard, and many schools have addressed the need for after-school supervision with structured programs.

This problem has been chronicled over the past several years, and Wendy Mogel isn’t the first child expert to warn us against neglecting free play. Why does it seem that we are still heading in the wrong direction?

I can admit that some of the intensity that taints my parenting is self-inflicted. When my child wants to do everything, it’s hard for me to say no. I listen to parents “lament” their weekends dominated by their children’s schedules, and I detect an air of superiority in their “Oh, we’re just so busy,” that has me questioning how productive my family’s weekends are. When I see my kids’ toy room and could submit a photo of it to The Weather Channel as a post-disaster scene, I wonder if they have too much free time on their hands.

But Wendy Mogel said on The Today Show that mess is the work of creativity, so we have that going for us. Perhaps next time I feel belittled by a fellow parent’s weekend field-to-course-to-court odyssey, I can sigh and talk about how da Vinci’s parents must have had to live through such assaults on their household order as we do.

Apparently those sacrifices we make with our feet when we try to cross through the land of 10,000 Legos are, in fact, part of the formula for future success. I heard only the end of this part of the segment, but experts have determined that creativity is a key trait of business leaders. While I have issues with guiding a child through life with only the goal of a well-paying job in mind (see We Are More Than Our Metrics), perhaps this will get more people on board with the idea that we Gen Xer parents should chill out a bit.

Calling All Brady Bunch Fans — Did Oliver Jump the Shark?

Remember this guy?

Remember this guy?

Tonight my children were introduced to Oliver of “The Brady Bunch”. (But not in real life… on TV.) My husband and I disagree about Oliver. I love him… thought he was adorable and that it was exciting that the Brady’s got to have a younger cousin living with them. My husband feels that it was “jumping the shark.” GenXers… what do you think?

 

My once and future favorites

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

I knew lyrics to Beatles songs before I could understand them. When I was three years old, I was weaned on a steady musical diet of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songs on this album are the soundtrack of some of my life’s first memories (along with “I Think I Love You” and “Sugar, Sugar”), and I believe that my views of the world were formed, in part, by what I heard in the music and lyrics.

I distinctly remember being three or four and cycling the lyrics to “She’s Leaving Home” through my mind, which was not at all prepared to understand the meaning of the song. I stumbled over the line, “She breaks down and cries to her husband, ‘Daddy, our baby’s gone.’” I wondered what in the world a husband-daddy was, and when it became too complex to imagine, I gave up and just sang along. I was probably ten before I reconsidered those words and then understood. That was about the time my interest in The Beatles was reignited and being mature enough to comprehend what they were saying was akin to finding hidden treasure under my swing set… it was always there but just waiting for the right moment.

The Beatles exposed my young mind to all kinds of other questions, such as:

  • Why would a banker wear a guy named Mac when it rains?
  • What spooky things were going on at that benefit for Mr. Kite?
  • Why did Eleanor Rigby wear a mask? I muddled this with Halloween and trick-or-treating and came up with a very odd image that perhaps I’ll share with Tim Burton if I ever meet him.

Early exposure to The Beatles is a beautiful thing. I can think of no collection of modern artists more appropriate to provide a lifelong love of popular music. When my children were born, I picked songs for each of them from the Lennon & McCartney collection, In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere”.

They will always be my favorite band.

In the beginning, there was a kid, a Classic and Croce

This week I step further into the mysterious world of midlife. And to celebrate, each day, I will post a song that holds significance from my past.

Let’s start with my first love song… Time In A Bottle by Jim Croce

I first learned the true meaning of love in the back seat of a Malibu Classic.

I was five years old, a passenger on the weekly journey to the A&P and Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime, along with my younger brothers.  My mom, who patiently endured the back-of-the-car antics of the five-and-under crowd, always had the radio on.  Time In A Bottle was in heavy rotation on our town’s biggest AM radio station, and just hearing the song in my head brings back the sensation of looking out the window watching life go by at 30 miles per hour.

I can’t remember what intersection we were at, but I can picture the stop sign, the crossroad and the overgrown grass around the old bungalow that occupied the corner lot amid the new houses surrounding it.  The theme from M.A.S.H. was ending and Time In A Bottle began.  By the closing notes of the song, I realized that love was more than just a word.

If I could make days last forever… if words could make wishes come true… I’d save every day like a treasure and then, again, I would spend them with you.

It dawned on me… each moment that passed, I was getting older.  Each moment that I aged, my parents were aging too.  I panicked at the thought – kids make parents grow old.  By having us, they were committing to a life limited by the passing of time.

So, for the next several months, I thought about how I could stop myself from growing up.  By doing so, I would keep my parents young.  But despite actually thinking something as crazy as being childless would stop time for them, I knew that not growing up, for a child at least, was impossible.  These were the sands of time, slipping out of my desperate little hands, and I was helpless to stop them.

And I have never been able to listen to Time In A Bottle without feeling the twinge of regret I knew as a small child.

Ironically, Jim Croce died shortly after releasing this song.   I knew this as a child, because the DJ often said, “That was the late Jim Croce…”  His death brought even more meaning to the lyrics.  It was a reminder that I would not be the five-year-old in the back seat of the Malibu Classic forever, just like Jim Croce wasn’t a recording artist forever.

Now, I realize that my reaction to this song was right in many ways, aside from the idea that people won’t age if they don’t have children.  Parenting is a sacrifice. Moms and dads commit their lives to their children.  Raising a child speeds up time immensely.  Jim Croce was right that there never seems to be enough time.

Years later, I have kids of my own.  My youngest is seven, and he has inherited my sensitivity to sad songs.  Even those that don’t have heartbreaking lyrics speak to him with their melancholy melodies.

I told my son this story about Jim Croce’s song.  I laughed when I told him about my strange first reaction to the lyrics, hoping that he would find this silly.  Like many children, he says he wants to stay with me forever. But I know that I will hang on to him much longer than he will need me.  He and his older sister will never fathom how much I love them until they become parents themselves.

There is something about the vulnerability of love, whatever form it takes or relationships it creates, that ties back to Time In A Bottle.  Love can be sad, like the melody.  It can be sweet, like the lyrics.  It can last forever and not long enough.

A couple of months ago, I heard the chiming first notes of Time In A Bottle while switching radio stations in the car.  In the back seat of our MDX, my son listened for a bit, frowned and, in a sad voice, asked me to turn off the song.  Then, he turned toward the window and watched the world go by at 30 miles per hour.

Sometimes you’ve gotta go home

My midlife crisis is in full swing.  It wouldn’t take more than three minutes for my husband to convince me to pack up what I could in an hour, hit the road and leave everything behind (aside from the kids, who’d come with us).

But, I’m unlikely to find myself in that situation.  I’m not a flight risk as long as he and the kids are here with me.  But, I imagine the wheels rolling down Lake Shore Drive, the four of us taking off in the pursuit of the ultimate freedom.  Better yet, because I don’t like long car rides, we’d be on Amtrak, pulling out of Union Station on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

When I get in these moods, I find myself reaching back instead of forward.  The future is an unknown.  And for a person who doesn’t feel the need to be rooted (an Aquarian trait, I suppose), it’s ironic that what soothes me are songs that have no other place in my life than in my youth.  I picture my childhood bedroom or riding in my electric blue Dodge Colt.  I can only return to these places in my mind.  My parents sold the house years ago, and the Colt’s metal probably has been recycled 20 times by now.  So it’s inside those songs that I go to relive where I’ve been before.

Thanks to SongPop, the greatest thing to happen to Facebook ever, tonight it’s this one… (click on the photo to hear the song).

Treasure lies in wait in my basement

Remember this?  It’s a 45… a single… a record.  I found a pile of them in my basement shoved in a milk crate packed too full with my father-in-law’s albums.  I was thrilled to be reunited with my old friends.

The time I spend in my basement is a disproportionate pie chart with very large slices being served for laundry, sweeping up sawdust and sighing about the number of unused “items” that create a continually narrowing path past the treadmill on which we park our bikes through to the storage room where 40 gallons of the previous owner’s paint waits for the trip to the recycling bin.  There are mini morsels for being the singer in our basement band and finding cool stuff that I had forgotten about.

Like my 45 collection that used to reside in a vessel that looked like this…


And there were loads of them.  They were the fruits of my labor, purchased with allowance money or birthday funds.  Sometimes I received them as gifts.  I can’t remember all that I had.  Now, the pile includes about 10 or so, all from 1979 through 1983, including “My Sharona” from The Knack and “Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club.  These songs are on my iTunes now, but I love that I still have them on 45s.

I wish I could remember my first 45, but it was likely some well-crafted pop masterpiece by The Partridge Family (I started young) or the Jackson 5.  Whatever it was, it is long gone.  I probably sold it for ten cents at a garage sale ages ago.  Perhaps it’s in some record bin in an antique store right now.  Apparently, when I was 11, I had no idea that finding these bits of treasure would make my night in my 40s.

Child’s Play

The house is silent. Sunlight streams in through the bare branches of the trees.  I stop shuffling around our toy room and take in the view for a moment.

My attention turns to the blocks on the floor. This is the final pile of toys that I need to put away in my effort to clean up my children’s toy room. Generally I ask them to keep this room tidy, but occasionally the Clean-up Elves visit.  Today is my kids’ lucky day. I’ve been focusing on organizing, containing, shelving and purging.  But in front of these blocks I rest.

The space that surrounds me looks like an ad for The Container Store again, expect for this pile of primary-colored wood in front of me.

In this moment, I have no particular place to be aside from in front of these blocks. I pick one up, truly feeling it for the first time in ages. I feel the corners and smooth sides against my palm and the pads of my fingers. The weight of their mass evokes an impression of sturdiness. I perceive the potential… how many things you can do with these blocks.

I line them up according to their size.

I line them up according to their shape.

I pile them together according to their color.

I put blue and yellow together. I make a checkerboard pattern with the red and blue cubes.

How far can I stack these blocks into the upper reaches of the room?

I build a pile that creates a rocky hill for a tiny imaginary woman to climb. I have never scaled such a landscape, but the lady in my mind will.

Children recreate the world as they see it and want to see it with these blocks. They lose themselves when they need to and when they can. And they “live” in those blocks. Why don’t adults do the same thing?

My children grab five minutes before walking out the door for their play. We hear often how important it is for children to discover through creative activity. Why does it stop in adulthood? Why is it not essential to our development? After all, we are still growing.

I am convinced that our generative abilities are the source of value in our contributions, even moreso in an era where machines can handle a lot of things. Why do we not nurture that through things as simple as these wooden blocks?

My mountainous pile is done, and the clear plastic shoe box that holds these blocks sits to the side. It is time for me to put them all neatly in this organizational vessel. Instead, Ileave them in the sunlight and walk away.

They Call It “Free Range” Parenting These Days

I introduced the term free range parenting to a friend of mine a few years back, and she rolled her eyes.  “Come on!” she said with such passion that you would think it was some sort of insult to her parenting skills, if she was, in fact, a parent.  Rather, I think it just seemed ridiculous to her to that people would use a term associated with livestock practices to describe a child-rearing philosophy.

I frequently call free range parenting “seventies-style parenting,” because that’s the last time I am aware that kids were able to come-and-go from their homes at their leisure.

I have fond memories of being four years old and leaving our yard to visit the massive saint bernard down the street who was so friendly that he piled on top of one of the neighborhood three-year-olds and nearly suffocated her.  Yes, we were quite a posse — a group of kids ranging in age from two to five — finding all sorts of ways to perplex my mother.  She finally padlocked our back gate after my brother trapped himself between a storm door and the main door in our neighbors’ back yard to avoid a bee.  Because he was two, he was unable to navigate the latch to get himself out, and it took a while for my mom to figure out where his helpless muffled cries were coming from.

That is the kind of stuff of seventies childhood legend.  Today, I wouldn’t even let a two-year-old on our back porch, let alone out of our yard.

Fast forward to earlier this summer when I tried my hand at free range parenting at my parents’ home on a lake in Northeast Indiana.  It seemed a good place to do so.  I was in the “back” yard (opposite of the lake side), and my children and a neighbor were playing in the expansive, well-maintained lots across the low-traffic lane fully within my sight but far enough not to be able to hear me unless I really pushed the sound from my diaphram.  So, I could keep tabs on them, but I could not be held responsible for solving their dilemmas, since telling them what to do would require me to move, and I was perfectly happy where I was.

It was a beautiful evening.  With the responsibility of micromanaging them off my shoulders, I could take in the full sensory experience of the time and place.  The sun was still high in the sky, its brightness was softened by its slow evening descent.  The air was still, and all I could hear were faint sounds of inflection from my children’s play down the lane.

“If there is such a thing as peace…” I began to say to myself when I saw my daughter throw a ball at my son’s head.  She seemed to be upset that he was infringing upon her time with the neighbor girl.  After my daughter resumed her play, my son retaliated by coming over and shaking her off the exercise ball she was sitting on.  He then pushed her down, and when she wouldn’t get up, turned his back and resumed his play.

“Nope, not this time,” I thought.  “I am free range parenting right now, and they are going to learn how to solve this one themselves.”

After about a minute, my daughter rose and apparently decided it wasn’t very useful to take on my son again.  She and the neighbor began to move to lots farther down the lane, leaving my son behind.  Of course, he caught up to them, and they began to move farther again.  Now, they were on the corner lot, right next to the main road — a winding country road with a 40 mph speed limit.  When they kicked the ball across that road and began to cross to get it, the free range parenting abruptly ended.

I stood from my cross-legged-in-the-grass position, shouted to them to come back toward our yard and began to cross the lots with purpose.  When we met at that corner lot, they began to tell me all of the things the other did, and my daughter claimed that she had to move toward the corner to get away from her brother.  We ended up back at my parents’ house, and the neighbor girl needed to go home.

So much for my free range parenting.  It lasted a whole five minutes.  In the seventies, would my children, ages eight and six, be supervised on any level in this scenario?  Probably not.  I suppose if I wanted to truly be a successful free-range parent, I would have turned my back or even gone inside.  But that would be too much for a millennial mom.