The music of our lives

Back when I was a judgmental young woman with no children of my own, I had some strong opinions about parenting. If you asked me to make a complete sentence out of the phrase, “No child of mine will ever …” I could have offered a variety of options:

  • Wear a fleece Minnie Mouse sweatshirt in public;
  • Eat Cheetos while staring blankly at an episode of Dinotrux;
  • Need to be hefted up like a rolled-up rug and removed from Choo-Choo Bob’s while (literally) kicking and screaming.

Of course, it’s a standard parenting milestone to have one’s strongly held beliefs — about the “right” way to be a parent — shattered in a humiliating surrender to weakness, reality and/or necessity.

However, there’s one area where my husband and I continue to maintain a “not in our house” mentality, and that has to do with the subject of children’s music.

Children’s music — it’s just not for me. Actually, by definition, it’s really not for me — it’s for the kids.

So I’ll force a jolly smile and recite The Itsy Bitsy Spider, complete with finger pantomimes, when I have to. I’m not some kind of monster. But will I willingly collect Raffi records, bring them into my house and play them aloud?

No! (Not yet, at least. Never say never.)

In fact, by embracing selfishness and sticking to stuff we like, we have found ways to use music as a parenting tool. For example, music can be used to (kind of) soothe colicky infants, support desirable toddler behavior and teach tough life lessons, among other things.

Let me elaborate:

Challenge: A colicky infant.

Solution: Jenny Ondioline by Stereolab

First things first: As any parent who has dealt with a truly colicky infant will know, there is no “cure” for colic, aside from the passage of time. But there are some interventions that might temporarily soothe your baby. In our case, the droning strains of early Stereolab could occasionally quiet our little screamer. And when your child is big enough to be hypnotized by a screen, the video for Jenny Ondioline has a particularly sedative effect, I swear.

Try it. (It’s free on YouTube.)

Baby with headphones

Challenge: You want to take an uninterrupted shower.

Solution: Marquee Moon by Television

It’s a parenting cliché — the whole, “I haven’t been to the bathroom alone in two years!” thing. But maybe you don’t want to live that reality. Maybe you want to take a shower and not have your toddler whipping open the curtain every 20 seconds. In that case, you need Marquee Moon.

Clocking in right around 10 minutes, this song provides just about enough time to rinse off the filth of parenting. Also, your toddler needs to learn the art of waiting.

Here’s what you do: Cue up the song. Announce to your child: “I’m going to put on the ‘Shower Song.’ You need to hang out in your room while it’s on. When it’s done, you can come find me.” You might have to act out this routine a few times before it produces the Pavlovian response you desire.

Challenge: You must inform your toddler that candy will not be served for breakfast.

Solution: You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones

The title of this song pretty much summarizes the zeitgeist of the toddler experience. Just Google “reasons my toddler is crying” and you’ll discover an amusing array of responses, including, “We wouldn’t let him eat the rest of the football.”

As the parent of a toddler, you’ll no doubt experience all manner of moments in which your little one goes nuts in the face of some perceived injustice. And while there is nothing you can really do about it (toddlers don’t understand reason), you can drown out some of the howls by playing this classic from the Stones.

Once your toddler is familiar with the song, you can invoke it in times of crisis, asking — “OK, sweetie: What would Mick Jagger say?” And it’s a proud parenting moment indeed when your child tearfully answers, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to