This ain’t no Barry Manilow

When I was young, I thought my parents were prudes. Very old-fashioned. Totally overreacting to, what we considered at the time, very cool music.

The first album I ever owned was Sheena Easton’s A Private Heaven. My older brother, lover of music, gave it to me on Christmas morning, 1984.

At that point in my young life, it was one of the greatest gifts I had ever received. Aside from my Monday afternoon piano lessons, it was the first thing musical that was mine.  Which makes it the only thing musical that was mine…clearly the piano lessons didn’t count.  I held it gingerly in my 10 year old hands. Stared at the cover, hoping one day to look remotely as cool and beautiful as Sheena. Removed the record from the jacket carefully. Held it along the edges, as I’d watched my brother do with his New Edition, Cars,  and Michael Jackson albums. Placed it perfectly on the record player. Lifted the needle, eased it onto the record, and turned up the volume…

Me:  Eyes closed, in a moment of pure happiness, “My sugar walls…blood races to your private spots…lets me know there’s a fire…”

Big Brother: Tapping me on the shoulder, “Better put the headphones on before Dad gets mad. You know he would rather listen to Neil Diamond.”

Me: Smiling, “Oh, OK, good idea…”

I listened to that record every day after school. With the headphones on.  Dancing next to the record player. The words were on the jacket of the record,…VERY cutting edge at the time…so I’d sing along while dancing.

One day I came home from school and went to the record player for my daily dose of Sheena. I couldn’t find my new record.

Me: Panicked, “Mom! Where is it? Where is my record?”

Mom: Playing dumb, “What record?”

Me: Impatient, “My new record. My only record. My Sheena Easton record.”

Mom: Muttering, “Oh, dear.”

Me: Nearing hysteria, “Oh dear, what? Did it…DID IT BREAK? Did somebody break it?!”

Mom: Quietly, “Well, I guess you could say it broke.”

Me: Shrieking, “How? It was a present!!! I love that record! Who touched my record?! It’s MY record!”

Mom: Calmly, “Well, your father did, honey.”

Me: Worried, “Did he drop it?”

Mom looked past me. Out the back door of the family room. Beyond the deck. Past the trees. Out by the train tracks.

Mom: Looking back at me, “Yes. He dropped it.”

Me: Furious, “I can’t believe he did that! Why didn’t he leave a note apologizing?! That’s my favorite Christmas present!”

Mom: Finally angry, “Bethany, you’re lucky he didn’t make you eat the broken pieces of it yourself.”

Me: Incredulous, “What?!”

Mom: Making sure we are alone in the room, “Do you know what Sugar Walls are, Bethany?”


Me: Hands on my 10 year old hips, “I know Sugar Walls is a song on my Sheena Easton record! That Dad broke! But, no, I don’t know what they are. What are they?”

Mom: Quietly, “Sugar walls are another name for a woman’s private parts.”

Holy shit. And Eww.

Mom: Continuing, “Your father saw the name of that song, read the lyrics to it, then took that record straight out to the train tracks as soon as he heard the next train coming.”

Jesus, he placed it out on the train tracks? He listened for a train, walked out the door, across the deck, through the yard, beyond the brush, and laid it on the train tracks? Who does that? Why not just throw it into the trashcan?

Mom: “That record is history, young lady.”


Not long after that, Mom was driving us kids (older brother, younger sister and yours truly) in the car. My sister and I sang along to the Madonna song playing on the radio, “But you made me feel…yeah you made me feel shiny and new…”

Me: “Mom, what’s a virgin?”

“Like a virgin…hey…touched for the very first time…”

Mom: “Is everyone listening, children? A virgin is someone who’s not married.”

Three short years later, Mom was driving little sister, me and a friend. I rode shotgun and had control of the radio.

Me: “Oh I love this song!” Singing along, “I swear I won’t tease you, won’t tell you no lies..”

From the back seat, little sister and friend join in, “I don’t need no bible just look in my eyes, I’ve waited so long baby, now that we’re friends, every man’s got his patience and here’s where mine ends..”


Mom narrowly misses the guard rail.

Mom: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, girls! What in the devil’s name are you singing?!

Me: “It’s SUCH a cool song, Mom.”

Mom: Shaken, “Well I don’t think so at all. I don’t know why he has to use those words. That profanity.”

Little Sister: Laughing, “Come on, Mom, so he says, ‘sex’, so what?!”

Mom: “I don’t know why he can’t just say, ‘I want your science notes’.”

Classic moment in our family’s history. Still, the fact remains…my parents were total musical prudes.

When I got pregnant with Waldorf, I read all of the well-known pregnancy books. I learned that he could hear many of the things that I heard. So, I stopped listening to Howard Stern and started listening to NPR, classical music and Kenny Loggins children songs.

Oh, go right ahead and laugh. Naturally, if I could go back in time and slap my pregnant self, I would. First, I would laugh and point at my ridiculous, know-it-all, pregnant self. Then, I would slap some sense into myself.

When Waldorf was born, our music collection consisted of Sesame Street, Nursery Rhymes, and our Making Music Together CD’s.

The Kenyan was born five minutes after Waldorf, and we expanded our repertoire to include The Wiggles.

And, yes, we saw them in concert.

Once the Interrogator was born, the Sesame Street and Nursery Rhyme CD’s were scratched beyond repair. We kept it fresh with Raffi. And the Backyardigans. And Laurie Berkner, the adorably energetic singer featured on Noggin . Come on, parents, say it with me…”Noggin. It’s like pre-school on TV”.

By the time the Verb was born, my goose was cooked.

The Verb, like his three brothers before him, screamed bloody goddamn murder from the moment we left the hospital until we turned his car seat around to face forward, 4 miserable months later. Pair that with the 7 years of listening to nursery rhymes while driving, and I was hanging by a very thin thread.

Me: Driving, “P-p-p-poker face p-p-poker face..muh muh muh mah p-p-p-poker face.”

Interrogator: “Hey, I want to hear Buzz Buzz Buzz!”

Kenyan: “I want to hear Knees up Mother Brown!”

Me: Raising my voice to be heard over the screaming of the infant Verb, “Nope. No sirree. No more. Never again. Gentleman, there will be no more Laurie Berkner. There will be no more Raffi. There will be only Mommy’s music.”

Waldorf: “What’s Mommy’s music?”

Me: Increasing the radio’s volume,“This is Mommy’s music. Muh muh muh mah. Muh muh muh muh mah.”

A few months ago, I walk through the family room on my way to the laundry room and I stumble upon the Verb singing. His 3 year old voice is scratchy and low. He has a wicked memory, so he’s good with lyrics. Therefore he sings loudly because he’s proud of his ability to recollect the words. I stop chanting “toilet paper, toilet paper, toilet paper” long enough to listen.

Verb: Swaying from side to side,“All eyes on me when I walk in, no question that this girl’s a 10, don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful, don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful…”

Me: Feigning sincerity, “Little Keri Hilson today, buddy? Sounds great!”

Verb: Nodding, “Now do the pretty girl rock, rock, rock, do the pretty girl rock, rock, rock…”

The next day, I hear the Kenyan singing to himself while he is doing his homework. He is a child in perpetual motion. Thoughts, words, hands, feet, mind all race from the moment he awakes until he falls asleep each night. So, yes, he sings while he does his homework.

Kenyan: “Ah, girl look at that body, ah, girl look at that body, ah, girl look at that body…I work out..”

What the hell is he singing?

Kenyan: “I got passion in my pants and I ain’t afraid to show it, show it, show it, show it. I’m sexy and I know it..”

LMFAO?! I will destroy the iPod that taught him those lyrics! I will place it on the train tracks behind Mom and Dad’s house, and I will destroy it! Wait a minute…the Kenyan doesn’t own an iPod…

Me: Careful to eliminate hysteria from my tone, “Buddy, where did you learn that song?”

Kenyan: Smiling, “From my friends. At school. I learned this one too…”

He pushes his homework to the side, gets up from the table, stands up and starts shaking his booty.

Kenyan: In perfect cadence, “I like big butts and I cannot lie. You other brothers can’t deny. When a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist and a round thing in your face you get sprung…”

For. The. Love. Of. God. How in God’s name does he know a Sir Mix A Lot tune? If he busts into an NWA song next, I’m going to have to home school him.

Me: “Alrighty. I love the way you gyrate your hips. It’s just super. Now let’s get back to your homework, little man.”

A few days later, as I’m cleaning up from dinner, my iPod kicks out a song. I’m alone in the kitchen doing the dishes, dancing and singing along to it as though I’m on a table top in a club in LA alongside Lindsay Lohan.

Me: “I’m into havin sex, I ain’t into makin love, So come gimme a hug, if you’re into getting rubbed…we gonna party like it’s your birthday..”

Kenyan: “Mom? What song is that?”

They’re sneaking up on me now? Can I ever get a moment’s peace in this house?

Me: “Um, it’s one of Mommy’s songs, bud. From my running mix.”

I reach with soapy hands to fast forward to the next song on my playlist…

Gwen Stefani belts out: “Uh huh, this my shit, all the girls stomp your feet like this…”


I reach my soapy hands out once again to fast forward to the next song on my playlist..

Kenyan: “Mom, your running music sure has a lot of curses in it.”

He’s got me there. The only thing that has more cursing than my music is my writing.

So, in an effort to compromise between Big Bird and 50 Cent, we listen to Kenny Curtis and the Animal Farm on the way to school. It’s a program on Kids Place Live, which is a channel on satellite radio. It takes every ounce of my self-discipline not to listen to Howard Stern, but I realize the children are in the car. And those loudmouth kids will blab to their teachers if I listen to Howard. Even if it’s only in the front speakers.

Plus it’s a Friday, so Howard’s a repeat anyway.

Kenny Curtis: “And this next song goes out to Paige, who turns 7 today! Happy birthday, Paige!”

“I like ‘em big…I like ‘em chunky! I like ‘em big…I like ‘em chunky!”


I glance down at the radio, to make sure I’m dialed in properly..

What station is this? Yep, Kids Place Live.

The Interrogator and the Kenyan sing along: “Chunky, chunky, chunky, Plumpy, plumpy, plumpy..”

Me: Attempting normalcy, “How do you guys know this song?”

Interrogator: Kicking his legs to the beat, “It’s from Madagascar 2, Mom. I love this song…I like ‘em round, with somethin’ something..”

I wrack my brain for a creative play on words to teach them. But I’ve had no coffee, no shower, and no breakfast. And nary a creative thought for a solid decade.

I’m tired. And I’m picking my battles. And, the song is about a goddamn hippo anyway. A real hippo. Plus, it’s a catchy tune…so, in an effort NOT to be old-fashioned, I crank up the volume and jam with my boys…see, Mom, I’m no prude…