I guess we’re at that age when Date Night becomes a shopping trip to Whole Foods and takeout sushi. At least the kids were in bed when we got home.
When I think about the difference between my childhood and that of my children, it basically boils down to The Sound of Music.
I am old enough to remember when The Sound of Music was only aired once a year, often around the holidays, on regular television, with commercials, from roughly 8pm until midnight. We usually turned it on late. My parents made me go to bed before it was over. But, in-between, I got the gist of things. A little Do-Re-Mi. Some 16 going on 17. And lots and lots of nuns. And if we missed it, there was always next year.
Of course, with the advent of Betas and VHS, it became possible to rent The Sound of Music experience. When the tape was available at the library or the local rental place, and when my family could agree that that was what we wanted to watch, we could bring the movie home and view it a couple of times. I could watch my favorite scenes again and again, to memorize the kids’ mannerisms, and the choreography. Mom could watch it with her own bowl of popcorn after we had all gone up to bed. Together, we could even fast-forward through the nun songs – which is super-funny, and if you have never done that, you should stop reading and go try it right now.
These days, we stream most of our movies. And we have more than one player, so in theory, my children can simultaneously watch three different movie musicals all at the same time. Which means that The Sound of Music is competing against The Wizard of Oz and Grease and High School Musical 3 as well as every other movie ever written. So, even though my children could watch The Sound of Music any time they want — and even though they know it is one of my all-time-favorite movies — they never, ever, ever choose to watch it. In fact, I had a better chance of watching The Sound of Music when it was only on once a year during my childhood than I do of watching The Sound of Music now when it is literally available in my home at every single moment.
There is something just nutso about that. Because my kids have access to nearly everything all the time, I feel quite a bit of pressure to be their human filter, not just for naked people and cuss words, but to try to shape their childhoods in the sweet image of my own. If their musical viewing habits are any indication, I am failing. They have just watched Lemonade Mouth for the three-hundredth time, while I hummed “Edelweiss” in the background
A few weeks ago, I attended an ’80s concert at the public library. That is where my music is played now – at Interstate rest stops, on department store escalators, and in front of the library on Sunday afternoons. Despite a few confused patrons who mistook the snow cone line for the book drop, the retro event seemed to go off without a hitch.
The band covered the biggies – Madonna, Journey, the Violent Femmes. And the middle-aged crowd drank their Pinot, munched on Kashi, and swayed gently to the music of a generation. Parents discussed little league. I got a new cobbler recipe. All while Def Leppard reverberated in the background.
And then “Livin’ on a Prayer” came on. The familiar oo-wa-oo-wa-oo seemed to trigger something. Yuppie conversations dwindled. Gently at first, and then with growing excitement, the crowd tuned in to the music. Dads wooted. Moms shook arses and bosoms before God and country. We sort of fist-pumped. We kind of rocked. We flashed back to dates, parties, our proms. For the first time in years, I felt like dancing on a bar. Most folks took a moment. To honor. To reminisce. And I think, maybe, to mourn.
What the hell has happened to us? Aren’t we — the ineffectual purveyors of homework and cauliflower – aren’t we still young? Love has, indeed, proven itself a battlefield. But have we honestly given up the fight for our right to party?
After Bon Jovi, the banter shifted a little. We reminisced about our wild sides – the kisses we’d been given, the men we’d let slip away. Someone had mistakenly taken her top off during what turned out to be merely a foot massage. (Me.) Someone else had entirely lost her bathing suit during a skinny dipping bout in Truth or Dare. (Okay, me again.) There was one-upmanship. Sometimes the wine was talking. But the takeaway was this: we used to be crazy people. Passionate. Euphoric. A little naughty. And we miss us.
Now, when I hear the songs that used to be my songs, I feel like they are mocking me. Whose brown-eyed girl was I? Was a vacation really all I ever wanted? And did I honestly once believe that I was someone’s meaning and inspiration?
Yes. Yes, I did.
These days, the only thing that shakes all night long is my dishwasher. I don’t miss my high school crush, but I do miss those crushy feelings. So what’s a grown-up child of the ’80s supposed to do? I compensate. I sing Twisted Sister in the minivan. I buy tickets to New Kids on the Block when they come through town. I ask the trainer to crank up the hairband mix during spin class.
When I listened to these songs as a teenager, I never envisioned myself raising children to them. I never thought about having to explain whose lover Billy Jean was, or why red, red wine makes a person feel fine, or why pouring sugar on someone is in any way appropriate. The music was just effortless and fun. The opposite of parenting, I guess. Maybe that’s what I miss most: the ease.
For now, I suppose I still have the public library. My daughter hula-hooping to Human League. My son and I kicking a soccer ball during the Joan Jett medley.
Parenting is both idyllic and thoroughly bizarre. Not unlike the ’80s, I guess.