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.

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Remembering The Midnight Special

Last night, my husband was flipping through the channels and happened upon one of those infomercials I love — the kind that feature someone like Jack Wagner and some other soap-star-turned-crooner talking about the great love songs from the 70s or something like that for a full half an hour.  I generally only see these on a Friday or Saturday after midnight when I wander from House Hunters, so I was excited to sit down to one on a Thursday night.  And I was even more stoked when I saw that it was for a DVD collection commemorating The Midnight SpecialThe Midnight Special!!

Talk about an itch that hasn’t been scratched in a long time!  This was just what I needed to get back on track with my blog, because I absolutely loved The Midnight Special. This show isn’t necessarily one that people would associate with the GenX experience, but somewhere along the line I got a glimpse of this late-night smogsbord of the top acts of the day.  And after that it became the Holy Grail of staying up late.  If I was quiet enough to slip under my parents’ radar, I could sneak down to the basement and enjoy it for a half an hour or so.  I used the check the TV Guide each week to find out who would be on, and if it was someone that I absolutely couldn’t live without seeing (Blondie, for instance), my mom would kindly let me stay up, as long as the act appeared during the first part of the show.

The Midnight Special was so much better than American Bandstand, with all due respect to Dick Clark.  The acts were more diverse, less freshly scrubbed and even at that young age I could tell that the performances were live (though in the later years, there apparently was more lip-syncing).  Last night’s infomercial confirms this, as some of clips of the artists’ performances sound not much different than they would if they were singing karaoke in my basement.  I would, of course, be honored to host any of these folks in our jam room.  I also noted that several had that glazed over look that probably wouldn’t go over well on American Bandstand, but I was more naive about those things as a preteen.  It was late at night… perhaps they were just tired.

If you haven’t seen The Midnight Special or need something to jog your memory, check out this clip of Heart (completely underrated band, IMHO).  Still don’t remember it?  Maybe you remember Wolfman Jack, the show’s frequent host and commentator?  Maybe you are too young?  Age aside, there are tons of videos on YouTube from The Midnight Special, so you don’t need to order the DVD set unless you are staging a Midnight Special Viewing Party — in which case, don’t leave me off the evite list.

Unfortunately, the infomercial never really identifies how many DVDs come in the set.  Another flashback — the purchase is done in a very “old school” way.  You buy your first DVD and then get a new DVD each month which you can return at any time or keep to enjoy all the great memories of this landmark program featuring the greatest artists of the decade.  When it comes to buying things like this, I want it all at once, and I want to know exactly what I am getting.  Perhaps the full collection is online somewhere, but my fervent desire to own it has worn off in the last 24 hours.

One more from The Midnight Special.  It’s Blondie, and she has something important to tell us.  Enjoy!

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.