Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Redheaded Stranger

There are things that separate me in my house of boys. I am the other. I am the girl. I do not concern myself with the inner workings of solar panels and recharging batteries and hydrogen. My eyes glaze over when they talk about Minecraft and I simply do not understand the frenzies they work themselves into over the xBox. We are so very different, my children and I.

Or are we?

Our oldest, The Redhead, has made me see things differently lately. I have written before about how we get each other. But as he becomes firmly planted in the world of teenager-ness, those moments of connection are fewer and far between. So I take notice when they happen. I don't want him to become a stranger to me. I want to acknowledge and recognize and shout from the rooftops: "We have something in common! We share an interest! My sweet firstborn child is not lost to me forever!"

Here's the secret formula:
Books + Music = Connection

1) Books

I am a huge reader. I used to teach middle school English and high school Social Studies, and while I haven't taught for two years now, I still keep up with the new and good in YA fiction. I wouldn't characterize The Redhead as a huge reader (I had plenty of students that always had their noses in books for comparison.), but he does enjoy a good book and is usually reading something. We've connected before with books - The Hunger Games, Ender's Game, The Book Thief - reading them aloud as a family and then going to see the movie. But a few months ago for my book club I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and loved it.



It wasn't going to be something we would read aloud with The Redhead's little brothers, who are in 7th grade. It involves kids dying from cancer. But I knew The Redhead was old enough to handle it. And I thought he'd like it. So I handed it over to him. He already knew the Green brothers from their Youtube channel, vlogbrothers, so he was willing to give it a try. I told him I cried through the last 30 pages. He smirked. I could see he was thinking I was just being a sentimental momma. Three days later, he came in to my room after everyone else had gone to bed. His eyes were wet. "I finished it. It was awesome."

And my heart was happy.

He got another John Green book from his English teacher at school: Looking for Alaska. When he was done, he pronounced it equally awesome and gave it to me to read. Do you see what's happening here? We are recommending books to one another. I started reading it and saw all the talk of teenage attraction and sex a bit differently knowing that my son had already read it. There is a pivotal scene involving oral sex - yep, oral sex - that embarrassed me for a moment. Only because I knew my 14-year-old had already read it. And yet he wasn't so embarrassed that he didn't recommend the book to me. So I got over my embarrassment and considered it a very good thing that we could "talk" openly - through reading - about a sensitive subject that most parents would avoid like the plague. We ended up having a great conversation about John Green and how he actually went to a boarding school (like the characters in the book) and how I also had gone to a boarding school. Which The Redhead knew but now sees in a whole new light.

We've got our own little book club. We are the only two members. So now we're on to Divergent by Veronica Roth. I read it and passed it on to The Redhead. I told him he has to finish it so we can go see the movie. And of course we are going to see The Fault in Our Stars when it comes out this summer - that goes without saying.

2) Music

As a mother who can impose my will on my children, I have insisted that they all learn to play an instrument. In this family, the band program offered as an elective at school is mandatory. The Redhead was the first to experience this tyranny, since he's the oldest. He started out taking piano lessons as a wee one. This helped him immensely when he joined band in middle school because he already knew how to read music. He suffered through a year of trying to play the french horn before he changed to the clarinet. He was so good he was asked to play the bass clarinet. This year has been his first year in marching band and it has been a success.




The Redhead after his winter concert.
That blurry thing is his bass clarinet.

Although my children may argue, my point is not forcing my will on them. I am hoping music will become something that they love and that brings them some enjoyment in life. But I can't make it happen. I can provide an environment that values music. I can make sure they have parents who listen to music at home and in the car. Parents who plan their entire day around the approaching Grammy awards and expect watching the show to be a family affair. I am a mom who turns it up and sings along. Aquaman is a dad who quizzes them when a song comes on the radio: "Who sings this?" he asks them and they scramble to answer correctly.

For Christmas, the boys requested things like laptops and iPhones and iPads - things we could not afford x3. This is in addition to the fact that we have successfully resisted giving our teenagers smartphones for many reasons. We tried to be creative with gifts - things that would encourage their interests. For The Redhead, I zeroed in on a record player as the perfect gift. At his high school's Open House in the fall, he had been most excited to introduce us to his English teacher because she had a record player in the classroom. It wasn't just an antique - she played it every day and displayed her collection of albums. She told us that she had to move The Redhead to a seat somewhat removed from the record player because he was mesmerized (read: distracted and unable to complete assignments) by it. This stuck in my head. I mentioned it to Aquaman as we did our Christmas shopping. He wasn't on board at first. "Do you really think he wants that?" he asked. "Are you sure? He didn't put it on his list, did he?"

I stood firm. "Yes. He'll love it. Trust me."

I did worry that I would be wrong -  that he would be disappointed when he opened the box Christmas morning and it wasn't a computer or a phone.

Only he wasn't. He was so surprised and pleased that he almost cried. He told me later it was the best present he had ever gotten.  



The best present ever.

We have had a great time hunting used bookstores for albums. Aquaman and I got him started with a few favorites of our own. We consider these essential to his music library.


The first album that was ever given to me.


A favorite of my parents.
We must have listened to this album a million times growing up. 


Only the best country album ever.


I am a child of the 80s. This proves it.

And while we guided him in the old wise ways of 80s pop, he introduced us to this:




His English teacher plays Daft Punk in class a lot - that's how he found out about them. I had never heard of them, but once I listened to the song Get Lucky, I had to scroll through Youtube and let The Redhead listen to Zapp and the S.O.S Band and Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder so that he could hear how 70s disco and 80s R&B had influenced this incredibly popular group of 2013. See what's happening here? We're recommending music to each other. And when Daft Punk won their Grammys this past weekend, I knew all about them. Which made me feel like a cool, hip momma - no easy task for a 43-year-old. Thank you, son. 

This past week, I heard the new song Say Something by A Great Big World on Pandora and was haunted by it. Have a listen. I challenge you not to cry. 




This song was playing one day when The Redhead came home from school and I asked him if he knew it. He did indeed. He was busy on the iPad, so I continued cleaning up the kitchen and washing clothes. And then, as I folded, I heard him picking out the notes to the song on his Casio keyboard. I paused in my work, straining to hear. He was playing the song. He searched it on Youtube and found a tutorial on the chords and now he was playing it. I had done the same thing countless times as a teenager (minus the Youtube part, since it didn't exist) - picking out a song from the radio on our piano. I almost cried. That was it. That was the moment that I knew exactly why I had insisted on piano lessons and band and music in our lives. It was for this. So that a person can connect with a piece of music on a level that makes them want to learn to play it themselves. 

I emerged from the laundry room and captured the moment.


video



We ended up moving to the living room where he played the keyboard and I played our out-of-tune piano, the music loud for us to follow and cover the sounds of our off key voices. We advanced to Coldplay and played Fix You and Clocks and The Scientist. It was a Partridge Family moment. We had fun together. 

And again, my heart was happy. 

This teenager thing isn't so bad.