The tunes of their lives

Being averse to endless repetitions of squeaky nursery rhymes sung by jobbing sopranos, I made a decision very early in my mothering career, that a rock ‘n roll education was what my children would be getting from me.

Listening to good music in the car is not just a way to indulge my latent stage persona (and I have no compunction whatsoever about singing loudly in the car even if other drivers stare), it is also the only time I ever have to listen to the music I feel I cannot live without.
The days of buying a CD and waiting till after dinner to lie on the couch and float away on the heady tonic of superb lyrics and the effects of a cool, grassy Sauvignon Blanc now lie in a past so distant it feels like I imagined it.

For 10 years now, I only ever listen to CDs (I don’t have time to upload the music on to an iPod, delightful as the idea is) in the car on school runs and errands, and nowhere else. Music is a lyrical link to the person I am under the mothering and coping layers, and pressing the play button in the car I remind myself in brief snatches of who I am.

In the process, I have exposed my children to a wide range of genres and styles. The discussions that have emanated from snatches of lyrics by Bob Dylan, Elbow, Morrisey, Tracey Champman, Alanis Morrisette, Joni Mitchell, The Parlotones, The Beatles, The Lucksmiths, The Black Eyed Peas  – to mention a fraction of an enormous whole – have been some of the most riveting and memorable the three of us have ever had.

This is mothering on steroids and I can highly recommend it. It is the ultimate in me-time multitasking. Not only am I getting something I feel I desperately need in my day, but I feel justified because I am allowing my children access to a complex world that is not only about music. It’s about the treacheries and joys of life, the importance of political resistance to injustice through song, the agonies of love and addiction, the pleasure of intimacy that can be felt in another’s company. Music reflects all of life, it seems to me.

Perhaps the same could be said about allowing the children to listen to talk radio with its relentless bad news, and its pugnacious, narrow-minded callers. But I have always switched the radio off at news time when they are in the car.

I do not want my children to grow up shielded from life’s difficulties, from uncertainty, from struggle, from the suffering that surrounds and will infect them eventually. But I don’t want it to come to them in the form of one-dimensional news reporting – even though news is my own career background. If life’s difficulties must be learnt, I want the kids to learn about them tapping their feet and humming.

Last night Number 2, aged 9, and 6-year-old Number 3 formed a band again, this time they calling it “First Relation”. Excellent choice, I thought. And they wrote a duet, which they sang to me before lights out. Here’s the refrain:

Sing, sing a song of beauty, oh yeah.
Sing a song of beauty, dance to a song of beauty.
Make it all happen right here, right now.
Sing a song of beauty, cos you know you can make it happen.
Right here, right now.

They’re not ready to take on Leonard Cohen or Joan Baez. But I think they have the basic idea.

Which music do you play to your children?

Read more by Karin Schimke
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