Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kids, Music, and Kids' Music

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large--I contain multitudes."
--Walt Whitman

Forever ago, I wrote about how I don't really like kids songs and hoped to find music from my own collection that would appease my child. Also forever ago, I wrote about how I wasn't going to sweat if it my kid happened to drop an f-bomb now and then.

Last week, I bought a sing-along CD to play in the car.  When I climb into the car--alone--and am greeted with the peppy screeching of a "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" round because I forgot to switch the CDs, well, let's just say that 7am is way too early for that, but there we are.

Also last week, I said "shit" in front of my daughter and she went "Ooummm. You shouldn't say that" in that sing-songy I'm-going-to-tell-on-you voice. (Tell who? God? Her daycare teachers? Me? I don't know.)

Things are complicated.

I wasn't completely wrong about the music. My daughter has cultivated a thorough appreciation for a lot of music that I enjoy. There was an entire month where she would insist on listening to Otis Redding's "Shake" over and over again every time we got in the car. She loves New Orleans blues and plenty of the Beatles' songs. She was singing along with Adele the other day; never has a two-year-old sounded so angst-filled.

But the thing about kids' music that I didn't understand is that it has some sort of magical properties that worm their way into kids' brains and inject large doses of mood-altering chemicals (that's my own theory--research pending; don't quote me). Kids' songs have simple melodies that are easy to replicate. That's why--before she could even talk--my daughter would sing "be-ba-be be-ba-be be-ba-be-ba-be-ba-beeeeee" to the tune of "This Old Man" over and over and over and over again.

Now that's she's become more verbal, her love for age-appropriate songs extends to the easy-to-remember lyrics as well:

So, I bought the silly CD of kids' songs and now she insists that we "listen music" every time we are in the car. Sigh. 

Then I did something else. See, we're a music family. It's on all the time. It's on in the background when we're sitting around reading. It's on when we're cleaning the house on the weekends. It's on when I'm grading papers. 

I usually just plug my iPod in on shuffle and let it go, but then I couldn't do that anymore. 

I have had my iPod for almost ten years. There is a lot of music on there that I don't even think is appropriate anymore, and there's certainly a lot of music that I don't think is appropriate for my child to be singing, especially to someone outside of our home. 

That's the thing with the swear words. I still believe what I said--that there are no "bad" words and that language is a tool that we use to express ourselves. Still, I also understand that I am not my daughter's only audience, and I doubt her teachers (now or in the future) are going to be quite so lax about it, so I need to handle that reality.

That means I can't put the iPod on shuffle anymore. I was just carefully selecting particular albums to play, but that was boring. I finally broke down and made a kid-friendly playlist that includes plenty of music that will neither drive me insane nor ensure that my daughter grows up to be a sociopath. 

I cut several songs from the list for their sexual suggestiveness and--sometimes--their overt misogyny. I know that I probably shouldn't be listening to potentially misogynistic lyrics myself (my brain, after all, is impressionable, too), but I also appreciate that our aesthetic choices are made up of more than just our  social justice centers, as I think Marianne dissected very well in her xoJane piece on why she still listens to (the sexually predatory-filled lyrics of) "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

Among the songs that didn't make the cut were "Splash Waterfalls" by Ludacris (for reasons I hope are obvious), "Down in Mexico" by the Coasters (which describes an exotic dancer in some detail), and even Everclear's "White Men in Black Suits" (which contains the line "All you want is just a slow fuck in the afternoon"). 

I've cut out some music that I really enjoy, and now--at least for the time being--I can only listen to it on headphones in libraries while I write blog posts. 

These are choices I make happily to ensure that my child is getting exposed to media that is good for her or--at least--not bad for her. 

To help make sure that I was promoting her growth and creativity through music, I bought another horrid kids' song CD. I pop it in, and what comes out? This filth:

"I wish I was a little bar of soap/I'd slippy and I'd slidey over everybody's hidey"
"I wish I was a little mosquito/I'd bitty and I'd bitey under everybody's nightie"
"I wish I was a little bottle of pop/for I'd go down with a slurp"

Shit, she might as well listen to this:

At least that has a good beat. 

It looks like there's no winning this game. 

How do you handle music for your kids? Have you had to cut some of your favorite songs from rotation? Do you just let them listen to it? Have you found any kids' songs that make you blush?!


  1. I never let my kids know it was possible to play their music in the car. When they told me about listening in other kids' cars I just said, "wow, that's cool. too bad it doesn't work in our car." they didn't figure it out until they were too old for all the kids' stuff. but paybacks are hell. Now I get to listen to One Direction at every turn!

    1. That's hilarious.
      In my family, this is has always been and always will be a continuous running gag:

    2. too funny. that just may have persuaded me to break out the kids songs!

  2. We do listen to some children's music, especially Wee Sing, Gabba music (which we all like, for the most part) and Fresh Beat Band (which we all like, for the most part). We also listen to a lot of Radiohead, and other awesome music that we all enjoy. I don't play music that makes me crazy, and if it's too ear wormy, I will hide the CD (Justin Roberts, despite being likeable and charming and melodic, got hidden for this reason). Pandora might be a good solution to the iPod problem.

  3. Great topic! May I recommend Elizabeth Mitchell? She makes delightful folk albums that are kid friendly (her daughter sings along) but aren't overly sugary ridiculous.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! I'll check her out.

  4. This isn't a general strategy, but when it works...
    Some of the bands I like have actually released music for kids, most notably They Might Be Giants. I'll also pick out soundtracks from musicals that I like - things that tell stories.

    1. Musicals are a great idea! I had another suggestion for TMBG, and it reminded me that I have a couple of their CDs (though not their kid CDs) in storage somewhere. I'll have to dig those out. . . Thanks!

    2. Kimya Dawson also did a kids CD called Alphabutt. My kids liked the old "Saturday Morning Cartoons Greatest Hits" that came out back in the 90s as well.

    3. A cartoons compilation could be a great way to subtly suggest some of my own childhood favorites to her as well! I'm so glad I wrote about this. You all have given great suggestions!

  5. Here from Feministe

    My kids are teenagers. I STILL skip the Genitorturers when it comes up on my ipod and they're in the car, even the 17 year old. (It's on one of my writing playlists, being the theme to certain couple) My 12 knows all the lyrics to all the songs on Adam Lambert's "Trespassing" CD, even some I'd rather she didn't.

    I skip anything with explicitly sexual or violent lyrics. Lily Allen's "Fuck you very much" (perkily telling off homophobes)is fine. Natasha Kills' "Kill my boyfriend" (about murdering her boyfriend because he's only nice in public) isn't. I only
    have a few.

    Then again, my kids are older and I remember being 16 and loving singing along to the raunchiest country and pop I could find.

    For little kids, it's really just a matter of culling your music. I third TMBG. Rockapella has some good stuff as well.

    1. I'll check out Rockapella, too. What a fun name!

      I know I have some stuff I'll be hiding from her when she's 17--if for no other reason than I'll be embarrassed to admit I listened to it!

  6. This is from my childhood so perhaps I'm biased but I can still listen to Fred Penner. He doesn't have a horrible screechy high-pitched voice. I think it's helpful if you can like folk music. People like Blackmore's Night have some pretty innocent music.

    My husband swears around his children regularly and they just see it as a part of who he is and haven't started doing it. Well, there is the occasional "What the hell..." from the 8-year old but generally they just don't have reason to swear.

  7. I also like TMBG. Barenaked Ladies did a kids album that I love.

    1. Really? They have that song called "When You Dream" that's about watching his sleeping son that's so sweet, so I can see them having a good kids album.

  8. I really like Baby Loves Salsa and Baby Loves Hip-Hop. Those are awesome.

    In the car, we just listen to the radio most of the time, which results in the kids singing along to "We Are Young" even though the adults hate that song. Their nanny has also introduced them to a variety of pop songs so I'll catch them singing "Gangnam Style" or "Whip My Hair" on occasion. Also, A. is developing into a serious Prince fan. That'll be interesting in a few years.