First smile. First steps. First day of school.
Certain moments in the parenting canon are aggrandized as monumental milestones that justify all the emotional trials of ushering infants into childhood and children into adulthood. You know the ones:
Learning to read. Hitting the home run. Passing the driver’s test.
And they’re all great; don’t get me wrong. But there’s another transcendent moment that no one ever talks about — and it’s so good that if you don’t have kids, you should consider getting some just so you can experience it.
It’s the moment when you discover that your kids dig your music. Not just recognize it or tolerate it, but genuinely love some of your favorite songs. When you happen upon them listening to the Isley Brothers while doing their homework, or singing Amy Winehouse as they unload the dishwasher, or blasting Bowie from the family iPod during a road trip — and not groaning and saying that they meant to click Bowling for Soup.
Those moments flood me with joy like a garden hose filling up a plastic backyard wading pool. Only much, much faster because those things take freaking forever. Why should it matter so much to me that we hanker for the same harmonies, throb to the same rhythms?
It’s taste, partly. I’ll admit to feeling smug when I realize that — thanks to the exceptional ditties on my heroic, ever-shuffling playlist — there will be two fewer people in this world who listen to James Taylor when Jane’s Addiction is available.
But it’s more than that.
See, my sons and I don’t always understand each other. In fact, as they get older, we dumbfound one another with increasing frequency. I don’t understand why they call me “dude” and would rather play Wii football than take a walk with me on a gorgeous day. They don’t understand why I keep serving vegetables they don’t like and won’t let them go to parties when they’re sick. It’s disorienting, and a little disheartening, to watch them becoming so thoroughly, so inevitably different from me.
But when they’re playing my jams — when my cool-conscious teenager queues up Sam Cooke or the Pixies on our stereo, and my fiercely independent 3rd grader picks out “Sweet Emotion” or “Lean on Me” on the piano — it’s as if we get each other on a cellular level. As if we’re cut from the same melody-relishing, backbeat-craving cloth. As if our shared DNA is finally, unmistakably evident.
Sharing grooves has the same effect as sharing belly laughs; it makes you feel understood on some deep, inexpressible level. It’s audible assurance that we’re more alike than we are different.
I’ll never know if these tunes strike exactly the same chord in my kids as they do in me, because explaining why you love a song is as arduous, and ultimately useless, as explaining why you love a person. And it’s possible I’m interpreting their musical taste all wrong. Maybe they gravitate toward my music out of sheer overexposure; aren’t we all nostalgic for the records our parents spun, the songs that formed the soundtrack of our childhoods?
Either way, I wonder if Blondie and Harry Belafonte and Squeeze and Stevie Wonder might somehow keep our family connected, even tenuously, as my boys grow and change and leave our home. I’ve always liked the idea that people separated by hundreds of miles can stare up at the moon and be comforted just by knowing that they’re looking at the same thing, joined in their mutual appreciation of a colossal, untouchable thing.
I hope that someday, when my boys and I are far apart and most of the “monumental milestones” of parenthood are long past, we’ll be able to find each other in the colossal, untouchable sounds of Ray Charles, Weezer, and Elvis Costello.
Or just in the simple act of changing the station when James Taylor comes on.