Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Career as a Composer

Never underestimate the power of stupid songs as a parenting tool.

Seriously. They're amazing.

I've spent many years of my life in various childcare and education roles, and it's always baffled and amused me how much power songs have over children. Children who would otherwise throw screaming tantrums at having to leave the playground will cheerfully sing "Goodbye, swing set!" (think  Good Night, Ladies) and then hop into line with the rest of the class. As long as a class is younger than third grade, I can always restore my students to order by singing a song they know. It cracks me up. No matter how dead set they are on running around and ignoring me, they can't not sing when they recognize my tune. This saves my butt almost daily as a music teacher.

I doubted that I would start using stupid songs in my parenting till I had a preschooler, but one day, in desperation, the Zipping Song and I discovered each other. Peregrine inherited most of his clothes from his older cousin, and the seasons were slightly off, meaning most of his last winter's clothes were actually summer clothes with sweatshirts over them. For some reason, Peregrine really hated the necessary zipping/snapping of the sweatshirts. I think it had to do with the fact that I would sit him up to put his arms through the sleeves and then I would lay him back down for the zipping part. All his hopes of being picked up were cruelly dashed, I guess. No matter how engaging I was, no matter how quickly I tried to go, he always cried and fussed. And one day, without even thinking about it, I started singing about zipping to the random tune I had stuck in my head.

He loved it. He stopped crying. He remembered it the next time. Zipping and snapping suddenly didn't phase him anymore. I sang that song for months. It was stupid, but it totally worked.

Next up was the Diaper Song. At some point in time Peregrine started resenting the fact that I pulled him away from his exciting discoveries to stick him up on a table and change his diaper. Quite by accident one day, I started singing about diapers ("DIA-per, diaper! To the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus. You're welcome.) He loved it. He still loves it. It baffles me completely. No matter how invested he is in whatever he's doing, the opening lines of the Diaper Song send him off at full speed to his changing table.

That's when I started doing it intentionally. Pretty much every time I notice that Peregrine consistently has difficulty with a transition, I invent a stupid song to go with it. Due to my background in classical music, I have a wealth of sophisticated-sounding tunes in my head to draw upon and then pair with lyrics about seat belts or bibs or waiting while I go get a wash cloth. And it works every time! Like a charm. Plus I get to feel like a rockstar, as my one fan starts grinning, dancing, and singing along to all of my lovely original creations.

I know a day will come when Peregrine will call my bluff and will realize that singing the Seatbelt Song doesn't at all negate the fact that he still has to put on his seatbelt. A later day will come when he realizes I'm actually kind of terribly uncool for making up songs about hygiene and safety and singing them in public. But I'll bask in his gullibility and admiration while I have it.

However, I'm afraid there is perhaps an unfortunate side effect to the success of my songs. The other day, I was absentmindedly humming the Hallelujah Chorus to myself in the car, and I heard Peregrine start bouncing up and down and hyperventilating with excitement because he knew that one! And the next thing I knew, he was singing along--"Bopper! Bopper!"

There goes my child's classical music education.

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