I am a controlling mom. It's the thing I most love and hate about myself. When the kids were toddlers, I thrived in matriarchal heaven, ruling my roost with dictatorial glee.
Lest you worry my children lived in rigid deprivation, I always provided the illusion of choice in our house. Would you like the apples or the pears? the peas or the carrots? the beans or the beets? Would you like to play with puzzles or blocks? draw or paint? run or walk? It's your choice my little darling.
The beauty of caring for toddlers is that they only know what you tell them. They can't ask for pop tarts, potato chips, or the Disney Channel if they've never had or seen them before.
Of course, I couldn't control everything. I accepted food-goo smeared on the furniture, toys on the floor, sleep deprivation, and a marked lack of the quiet introspective time I needed so badly. The house belonged to the kids, and that was okay. I couldn't, however, give up what little quiet I could garner in the car. Translation: I just could not live without my NPR.
One of my cardinal rules of parenting toddlers was always that nothing happens "just this once." You can't let the kids jump on the furniture, eat ice cream before bed, or run wild around the grocery store (instead of ride in the cart) "just this once." I always told Steve, "For a toddler, once is the same as always."
To protect my NPR time, then, I never, NEVER, played kids' music in my car. No Barney tapes, no Wiggles CDs, no Disney Channel on XM. That way, they didn't know they could ever listen to anything but the calm and measured reporting of Diane Rehm and Kojo Nnamdi that I found so soothing. My kids couldn't (and didn't) miss what they didn't know.
Once, however, after riding in his Aunt Laurie's van (always a bad influence, that darned sister of mine!), Gareth told me in his sweet little boy voice, "Mom, in Aunt Worie's car, she can play Barney!" He said it with amazement and just a hint of sadness that I admit, almost made me feel bad for him, but I didn't relent.
I responded with a sinister willingness to deceive: "Really!? That's pretty cool! Too bad our car doesn't do that."
Gareth: "Yeah, I know!"
He moved on to something else. I swear, he wasn't even scarred.
And I went on with my NPR.
Of course, the years went by and the kids grew out of "Wheels on the Bus." Despite their developing musical interests, however, we managed to keep a peaceful balance regarding radio use.
Until last year.
That's when I completely lost control of the car radio. I lost it to Olivia, my tween monster who had a new-found passion for pop music. Personally, I don't know how a child can listen to the same three songs over and over and OVER again for weeks. I'm sure I never did this with Leif Garret, Andy Gibb, or Air Supply. I'm sure of it.
In the mind numbing haze of repetition, I've caught myself entertaining angry sounding internal dialogues with the most repeated artists, asking Bruno Mars, "You should've bought me flowers? Really? Well, I should've bought you laudanum. Take that!" And Rihanna, "You couldn't possibly still want me to stay when I want so badly for you to go away!" Then there's Katy Perry. I don't talk to her, but I'll say that "Teenage Dream" feels more like a grown-up nightmare.
I cannot even bring myself to link up to these songs. Surely you too have heard enough?
As the year progressed, the ten minute drive to Olivia's school became the longest ten minutes of my day. The music, on its incessant loop, would assault me with sameness when I felt the most groggy and vulnerable. Listening to Taylor Swift sing "I Knew You Were Trouble" every day before eight o'clock in the morning never failed to send me into a tailspin of suburban mother madness - a place where I wanted to bang my head incessantly into the driver's window of my minivan in a way that would involve drool.
Still, I tried to hide at least some of my frustration from sweet Olivia who couldn't imagine I'd have a problem with her music choices. Having denied her the Wiggles during the car rides of her early years, I felt I owed her this coming of age. I remember discovering pop music as a tween and feeling somehow, that I had discovered myself.
So I let the music play.
Then, just when I thought I might have to flee my car in rush hour traffic, Olivia showed up with her ipod.
"Hey, Mom. Look!" she said, holding up the gleaming device. "I thought I'd listen on my ipod so you can hear your NPR!"
Feeling oh-so satisfied with this display of problem solving acumen, she plugged herself in with a smile and left me
in deafening silence.
Now I drive around listening to Michelle Martin's Tell Me More just like I wanted. But I keep finding myself with things I want to say, stuff I want to share. When I offer up my little insights, however, Olivia jerks an earphone out of her head and says, "What?!" with unmasked annoyance.
Be careful what you wish for, right?
It's Karma coming back to get me, I know, because if I had to choose between the Wiggles, Katy Perry, and the silence in which I now find myself, I'd definitely go for a little family sing-a-long to Big Red Car.