There was a time when I looked forward to putting my kids in the car and taking a relaxing drive. When my oldest were babies, I would tuck them into their car seats, throw on my radio and watch them fall asleep to the throwbacks of 90’s on 9 or the smooth soul of the Slow Jams station. But as my kids have grown older, things have changed. Not only do they stay awake the entire ride, but I’ve lost control of my radio.
When I was a kid, my father was in charge of music in his car. He would pop in his 8-track and us kids would be subjected to whatever songs he desired for as long as he wanted. By the time I was seven, I had heard “Rhinestone Cowboy” more than any child should.
In my mom’s car, we could ask her to change the station, but if one thing went wrong during that ride, changing the station was to blame. Missed her exit? That’s because I made her change the station. Got a ticket? Got a flat? Forgot to turn the stove off before we left? Because I made her change the station. So usually I didn’t even bother to ask.
My kids don’t bother to ask either. They simply demand. When we get in the car and the radio comes on I hear “change it” within seconds. “Put on Happy” is the next thing I get these days. I explain to the 4 of them that I can’t just put something on, that it has to play on its own. But this concept doesn’t stick, because the next thing I usually hear is “put on the big fat butt song!” If you haven’t heard “Wiggle” (the chorus of which is “You know what to do with that big fat butt”), it’s the funniest song a 6 year old boy can imagine. I’m almost sure a 6 year old boy wrote it. But every time it comes on my 3 sons scream it to my 4 year old daughter and she cries buckets. So I try to avoid “Wiggle” when possible. At this point I usually start to scroll through the stations, during which each person hears something different that they want, and suddenly I’m in a sea of hysterical cries of “this one,” “no, that one,” “GO BACK” until I decide to just land on a station and someone starts crying because they hate Justin Bieber.
If we do find a song that doesn’t incite hysteria, no one is allowed to sing. If someone sings, one or two others are immediately bothered to tears and the screams of “STOPPPP” overpower anything coming through the speakers.
At some point in the bickering, I usually decide to turn off the radio. “That’s it, no more music,” I declare. “Good” says my daughter. “I’m ready to watch ‘Frozen.’” Now there is a frenzy over which movie I should put on, regardless of the fact that I’ve neither agreed, nor intend, to put on a movie.
After all this time, haven’t I earned the right to rock my minivan the way I want? Haven’t I endured enough years of Roy Orbison and Elvis for it to be my turn? Can’t I pretend that I’m headlining the Staples Center instead of driving to carpool? Driving my kids sometimes feels like a movie scene where the drill sergeant is screaming in the face of a new cadet, because since we’re all strapped into our car seats, usually mid-ride, I have no choice but to just sit there and take it.
But even through the shrieks and fighting, I am grateful that my kids are passionate about what comes through the speakers. As the philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.” And in my minivan as in life, I know that sometimes being a parent means I have to face the music, even when I don’t like the song.