My Life In 4 Songs


Jasper, waiting for his walk. Or a belly rub. Or both.

This Friday, while walking my huge and lovable dog, Jasper, I listened (as I do each week) to Pop Culture Happy Hour, the NPR podcast hosted by Linda Holmes. I adore this podcast and find their topics and recommendations impeccable (for example, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and  Hamilton came to me by way of PCHH. The author Sarah Waters came to me by way of Barrie Hardymon, a frequent PCHH guest.  I know, I know–they are demi-gods of cultural wisdom).  So, when this week they featured a segment devoted to songs that changed their lives, it led me to think about songs that changed my life in similarly intangible yet undeniable ways.

Here’s my list:

  1. Tori Amos: Silent All These Years

Twenty years later after first hearing this song when I was in my early teens, I can still recite every single lyric.  I was a little late to the Tori Amos band-wagon as a mid-nineties teenager and didn’t discover her first album until she’d already put out two other albums, but in the end that didn’t matter.  I loved them all, but this song off of her debut was everything to me. She sings about finding her voice, about the bitterness of sacrificing yourself for another only to be discarded, and the maelstrom of thoughts that comes with growing into an adult.

This song made me feel normal in the craziness of my teenage years. I am so grateful that I could tuck it close to my heart as I tried to figure out who I wanted to be.

2. Smashing Pumpkins: Today

My one claim to coolness is that the first CD I ever bought for myself was Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Now, granted this was partnered with a Mariah Carey CD, but we don’t need to talk about that. Part of the reason Today was such a pivotal song in my life is the music video that accompanied it (which, back in the day, was only accessible on MTV). It shows different vignettes of young couples in love, illuminated by the forgiving haze of a sunset.

This song made me think about what it would mean to be loved and the comfort that could bring with it. I’d spent so much time in my life up to that point worried that my body, my face, my entire self was unlovable and undesirable, but this song and the images Smashing Pumpkins chose to represent it gave me confidence that one day I would have access to that same tender affection.

3. Bette Midler: Oh Industry

As a child, our family took many trips in the van out West.  Hours and hours were spent in the car, with my two brothers and my parents’ limited soundtrack of three cassettes.  They included: an Elvis Presley compilation tape, the Amadeus film soundtrack, and the Beaches film soundtrack.  I have no clue what my parents were doing with such random musical pairings, but this trio remains a stark fact of my childhood.  When a tape was finished, one of the other two were popped in, creating a constant fluency of sound. Much like Tori Amos, I can recall the line-up on each of these albums from memory.

Oddly enough, my favorite song out of these was Oh Industry, sung by Bette Midler on the Beaches soundtrack. I don’t think I had a clue as to what she was singing about or how it fit into the film itself, but the opening lines of “I am the captain” haunt me still.  I wanted to be the  captain of my life back then, and to this day that sentiment remains.  As many of us know, Bette Midler can do many things–empowerment being just one of them.

4. Owl City: Fireflies

My husband loves Owl City. He particularly likes to listen to it when folding our family’s never-ending pile of laundry. I chose this song because it represents the contented space I live in now, and that I captain my ship with a fantastic partner and three delightfully goofy first mates (otherwise known as our three children).  It feels good to be in a place in life where happy music does what it’s intended to do–it makes me happy.

The Parenting Maelstrom: 3 Teens, 1 Home, Infinite Hormones

This is a stock photo.  If it were my family, one of the children would be trying to push the other into the surf. With more eye make-up on.

In our family, we have 3 growing and healthy teens (okay, technically one isn’t a teen until August, but whatever–the hormonal unrest started long ago, so I’m lumping her in with the other two).  This makes for a definite challenge in the parental realm as we try to navigate the clutches of puberty, neurological growth, societal pressures and, God help us, social media access.  And that’s along with, as my 94-year-old Grandma would say when I watched General Hospital as a teen at her house, “All the smut on television.”

I haven’t figured much of this out, yet, and seem to live on a wing and a prayer most days (It is a truth universally acknowledged that your Developmental Psychology Ph.D. does not keep you from crying when one of your kids yells “I hate you” right to your face. Or from wanting to yell something equally nasty back in the heat of the moment).

Parenting teens is hard work, much like any form of care-giving, parenting or otherwise, is.  The biggest  challenge for me lately has been to step back as the co-leader of the family and check my compulsive need to address any disrespect or noncompliance. When my children were younger, I felt rather confident in administering the checks and balances of my parental realm. My children needed an authority figure, and my husband and I enacted that role with as much consistency as we could provide.

And then puberty hit, and our children started thinking differently, feeling differently, and seeing the world differently.  Authority no longer had as much power or derived as much adherence as it once did.  Instead, we now find ourselves embarking on the long and bumpy road towards equality. Granted, we won’t hit it until our children are out of the house and independent adults, but the seeds of our children’s independence are being sown now, as young teens grasping for freedom while still within the safety of our home.

And although I navigate this path better some days than others, the ultimate key skill I feel I’ve had to develop more and more is a basic one: Emotion Regulation.

Emotion regulation, or emotion control, is a core skill we begin to develop as young infants. It is the ability to inhibit emotional impulses and engage in more planful behavior surrounding our emotional responses. In particular, learning how to regulate anger and disappointment is a necessity for navigating any social group.  As young children, we hopefully learn when we are younger how to tell someone what is bothering us instead of hitting them. Over time, we understand the importance of congratulating others on achieving something we weren’t able to do, like winning a competition or getting the date we wanted to the prom.

And, as adults and caregivers, we learn how to stay quiet when our teenage children attempt to provoke us into verbal combat, instead speaking assurances that we love them ‘no matter what’ when everything has calmed down.  We learn how to ignore the disgusting cess-pool of inside-out socks on the floor and instead congratulate them on their A- earned for their English project. We learn to tell them they look lovely, even when we hate (I mean, hate!) the outfit they are wearing.

Is this dress-code appropriate?  Hang on–your school doesn’t have a dress code. What?!?

Because parenting is ultimately about raising our children to be competent and caring members of society.  As adolescents, they understand right from wrong.  They know the rules and how to follow them.  And they see the world as a quickly opening, and yet often intimidating, place. Home becomes a haven to let out their frustrations and worries and insecurities.

So, each day I try to breathe deep, count to 10 (just like Mom taught me when I was little–everything old is new again!), and let the nasty comments and snide looks roll off me.  These, in the grand scheme, are minor infractions and pin-pointing each one with a disciplinary remark or consequence would prove counterproductive.  If I did that, my  attention would solely be focused on what they are doing wrong, thereby ignoring everything they are doing right.

My kids work hard, they care about our family and do their chores regularly without complaint, and they often (of course not always, but often) choose right from wrong. I am confident that, eventually, they will seek out my husband and I for closeness and companionship again, but until then I know that all of this angst and button-pushing from them is a sign that they are growing and developing.

And as any parent will tell you, seeing your child grow in a healthy and normal way is always a balm to the heart (even if that ‘normal’ involves calling you a sadist for asking them to take the stinky trash out).