I knew I had a teenager in the house when he started to hum the lyrics “My heart's a stereo, It beats for you, so listen close, Hear my thoughts in every no-o-o-te…”
Even if at that time I were averse to hip-hop, rap or R&B, I would still have doubled up my musical dosage. I needed to. He has been prone to respond with monosyllabic grunts to my variably expressed questions (how his day was, how he was doing, etc.); there were times when all I had to go with were his feelings and thoughts expressed in every no-o-o-te.
So I made him my radio, turned him up and listened to his heart’s stereo. I grabbed the song’s invitation, took the melody as if it were meant for me, and sang along to his stereo.
The boy did not appreciate it. That may be how it is now, but that is not how it was.
He used to ask me to sing for him. Ages ago, he’d quietly listen to me and, at the close of the last note, he’d say, “Again.” So, whatever song it was, I’d sing the whole earworm again and again.
After my hundredth rendition and without any practice on his part, he’d sing the whole song completely – whether it was about an itsy bitsy spider, baby belugas, Billy Joel walking in his sleep – all words correct and pitch perfect.
Now, he tells me he can’t sing. No stories, no descriptions of how he used to sing can convince him otherwise. He simply, fully believes that he cannot sing.
Worse, he now tells me that I shouldn’t sing! What the blazes happened? I know it’s not my singing per se; I can carry a decent tune. (Heck, had my lungs been more powerful, I would have been a diva.)
I can, in fact, belt out the songs that he likes. Is it because I do belt out the songs that he likes? I can almost see him vigorously nodding a yes to this question, so I won’t ask him.
By singing some of those songs, did I ruin them for him? Hrrmph, I can imagine him giving a smirk that can only mean yes.
Oh, I like some of the songs that he listens to, but there are few that need to be ruined. I took particular issue with a whiny, needy song that went, “I’d jump in front of a train for ya … I would go through all the pain, Take a bullet right through my brain … But you won’t do the same.”
Oh, whine, whine, whine. Jeez, can’t that singer get those many hints? They were not even hints; they were big, red, screaming fire alarms. He should have gotten the message loud and super clear when, after he gave her all he had, she tossed them in the trash.
The imbecile did not get the message. He in fact still offered to “catch a grenade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah), throw my head on a blade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah).”
Nah, nah, nah. No son of mine is going to absorb an incantation on obsession and emotional blackmail as his first standard for love and courtship. No son of mine will be encouraged to think that it’s okay to throw unwanted advances at another person and expect that person to be impressed. That’s bullying, plain and simple, so I purged that song out of his system by replacing choice verbs and nouns with – ahem, pardon me – a scatological word.
With cloying sweetness, I crooned for him and his younger brother, “I’d jump in front of a poop for ya . . . You know I’d poop anything for ya, I would go through all this poop, Take a bullet straight through my poop, But you won’t poop for me …”
The teenager was at first disgusted. He stubbornly stared a hole into the wall in his attempt to keep a straight face as I sang my version of “Grenade,” but his brother laughed louder and harder with every drop of the scat. Then, his stone face still not cracking up, the teenager fell off his seat and rolled on the floor, his shoulders shaking in mute laughter.
I wanted to tell him to let his laughter out, to warn him that the ghost of that unlaughed hilarity might haunt and tickle him at the most inopportune moments. But looking at that emerging fuzz of hair above his firmly shut lips and knowing how serious he can sometimes be, I decided to keep my own counsel.
Maybe the ghost of a laugh is not such a bad thing at all.
Isabel de la Torre of Parkland, an environmentalist and trained but non-practicing lawyer and journalist, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.