A funny thing happened the other day. It began after I’d fed my nine-month-old daughter, Ella, and was trying to fold the laundry while my wife made dinner. Ella wouldn’t have it. She needed attention, stimulation. She needed to rock.
I cranked up the Bryan Adams and put on a one-man rock ’n’ roll show. I really got into it. I ground out riffs on an invisible ax, pounded the high chair drums, and sang in a loud, squeaky falsetto while alternately wearing an authentic smile and an ironic version of the iconic rock ’n’ roll grimace. You know the one: eyes shut tight, fist clenched, head tilted down ever so slightly, as though your feelings are so intense that you just can’t look up. Then, in the midst of this ironic display of affection, I had a genuine realization. I’d started to mean what I was singing.
There I was belting out “Everything I Do (I Do It for You)”—a song made from 100 percent pure Canadian maple syrup—when I started to tear up. Suddenly the lyrics meant as much to me as they did in eighth grade, when I had a car wreck of a crush on a 14-year-old Aphrodite named Emily Horn. I would fight for Ella. I’d lie for her, if necessary. I’d certainly walk the wire for her. And if it came to it, I’d die for her.
I know it’s true, but I surprised myself. If it’s just a cheesy pop song, why did I feel like Bryan Adams had invaded my brain, stolen my thoughts, and was singing them to the whole world, just like when I was 13? I think because, in many ways, becoming a parent is just like becoming a teenager.
As a teen, you’re fully in the moment, every moment. It’s when you literally fell over laughing at Eddie Murphy; when you stayed up all night playing Tecmo Bowl with your best friend, then played a Little League game the next morning. And how could two hours on the phone be enough to give your take on the day? “Did you see what Chuck was wearing today? Oh, and seriously . . .”
Does any of this sound familiar? Laughing hysterically as you play peekaboo with your son? Staying up all night, only to rise early the next day? Telling your mother every detail of your daughter’s day? “Do you know what she did? She sat up, looked at me, and said ‘mamba.’ It’s not a word,
I know, but you know, I think she meant me.”
Both in your teens and as a new parent, it’s all too new, too big, too intense. You haven’t figured out how to dial down the world yet. You’re sure that you’re the first person ever to love so deeply, be so scared, feel this terrible, look this ugly, or be this happy. Music can help. Put on headphones, close your eyes, and it’s just you and Freddie Mercury or you and Bono, Eddie Vedder, Eminem, Britney, Justin, or the Black Eyed Peas. They’re inside your head, speaking to you, singing about you.
As a teenage boy, you move quickly from infatuation to crush to obsession. You want to spend every moment with the girl in the acid-washed cutoffs. As I grew up, I came to see those early relationships as playing at love. At the time, though, they felt real enough. And even though my relationships since then have been more satisfying, I’ve never felt my heart bleed the way it seemed to every day back then.
That is, until I had kids. As a new parent, I’m right back in junior high. Love has filled me up and is oozing from my pores. I can’t dial down the world. My heart is a fresh-from-the-oven, ooey-gooey slice of Mom’s lasagna, and I need something equally cheesy to express my feelings and to keep my heart from melting entirely. For some people that’s an Anne Geddes calendar. For others it’s a Precious Moments doll. For me, it’s REO Speedwagon, Chicago, and Bon Jovi. These people know how I feel. They play power chords on my heartstrings. When they sing, they sing to me, so that I can sing to Ella.
Eventually, I’ll develop some coping mechanisms. Eventually I’ll stop crying at the commercial where the little snowman comes in from the cold, and his mom makes him a cup of soup, which melts him back into her little boy. Until then, I’ll sing, from the rooftops if I have to. Let the tears fall where they may. As a teenager and as a parent, love really is a wonderful thing.
Excerpted from Hip Mama (#45), a reader-written zine for progressive families, made rich with stories and politics from the front lines of parenthood. www.hipmamazine.com