Upon entering parenthood, I discovered that one of the hells I was not prepared for was children’s music. I forgot I couldn’t put on adult music when kids are listening in near me. I blame the countless hours of mind-numbing classical music we endured in the hopes that we were creating little geniuses, along with overly enthusiastic renditions of classic ‘Americana,’ and children’s programming themes (I’m looking at you Wonder Pets. There is no need to sing about the damn phone ringing. Just pick it up.).
For what? For making my wife Sarah and I forget that music was once a major part of our lives. We went to concerts. We blew money on CDs. In high school, I easily had over 40 band bumper stickers on my car, and Sarah loved that car. Hell, I even had Stone Temple Pilots stickers on my car and I could only hum a couple of their tunes. We were music hipsters, finding music before other people, driving to different states to see bands we liked. And now … I am listening to a Chinese duck mispronounce Rs in an adorably yellowface cartoon.
We were thrilled when Yo Gabba Gabba introduced us back to the bands we loved, albeit in kid form. And then an idea, a revelation if you will, began forming. What if we exposed the kids to the music we liked? Put on adult music when kids are listening? We could turn on the radio instead of the kids’ CDs. Pandora could play what we wanted to hear. Sure, there were rules. Certain songs – okay most songs – needed to be skipped. Any overtly sexual or vulgar songs should be skipped right away. When you start listening for it, you find it. Ben Folds, Elliott Smith, Modest Mouse … all of them had to be carefully monitored.
Then the questions started. Namely, “What is this song about?” We had great experiences playing adult music when kids are listening…
Some Adult Music When Kids are Listening
“Give Me Hope, Joanna” by Eddy Grant
This song is about Apartheid. Not too long ago, people in South Africa (which has relevance for our girls as our minister is South African) kept people apart from each other based on the color of their skin. They couldn’t go to the bathroom, go to school or even the same pool as people who didn’t look like them.
The girls were appropriately horrified. They made an interpretive dance. This was probably the high point of our discussions, made very relevant by timing and geography, as we live relatively close to Ferguson, Missouri, and this was around the time of the shooting and subsequent riots.
“Muerdete la Lengua” by Francisca Valenzuela
Our eldest adopted this song as her anthem. For every play “Let It Go” got in our house of three preschool girls, this song got two. I have the iTunes stats to prove it. Unfortunately, it is in Spanish and our Spanish is at Dora levels. I told our eldest that it meant “bite your tongue.” I then got to explain what an idiom was and meant. The idea that a collection of seemingly random words could be agreed upon by everyone to mean something was a hard concept, but she definitely learned it here.
“Kate” by Ben Folds Five
The girls loved that the “heroine” of the song was so carefree. Great! “Dad, what’s smokes pot mean?” Crap.
“Anna Sun” by Walk the Moon
They would request the video and watch it often, as college-aged kids danced around a house and in a field. I tried to explain about finding yourself after you are done with school and completely went over their heads. Not a win, but still a catchy song.
“Brandy” by Looking Glass
I would sing this song to them when they went to sleep. It originated as my drunken karaoke song in college, but I like to think I’ve gotten better. I like to think that this song introduced them to the idea that sometimes a song, or a movie, or real life, doesn’t end with two people happy and together, or at least cushioned the blow when Hans was revealed to be the bad guy in Frozen.
“I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” by Colin Hay
Thank you, Garden State Soundtrack. This bedtime stalwart became the hallmark of what love could be defined as. Which is mostly a good thing. “Dad, what’s strong whisky?” And now we skip that verse.
Pop music also was fun. The girls love Lady Gaga, based almost entirely on the fact that prior to her discovery, the twins had built a multi-tonal language on the word gaga. And now there was a LADY gaga. Win for everybody. Sure, I had to turn off Beyonce (“Drunk in Love” is pretty much completely inappropriate) and strictly monitor for any surprise Ke$ha or Katy Perry (I don’t care that she sang “Firework.” She also sang “California Girls” or the nausea-inducing “I Kissed a Girl,” which can teach our girls that their sexual preferences can be open, as long as “my boyfriend don’t mind it.” Rant done.)
I loved Megan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” until my eldest asked me what a booty was. They were familiar with pirate booty. I got to explain that it was also a term for bottom. Then, my eldest asked again, “Why do boys like to hold girls’ booty at night?” Hm, this adult music when kids are listening thing has gone to a whole new level.
Crap. Maybe we should have stuck with Mozart, “My Darling Clementine” and Ling-Ling the offensive duck. Wish us luck as we continue to navigate music we love and continue to try adult music when kids are listening.
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