Children, Music

Party Clasher

The credits run and he starts to bounce. “Let’s have a dance party, Mommy!” Without a movie to glaze his eyes and glue his backside, he clambers up onto the back of the couch. I groan. Bedtime has outrun us again. We haven’t even brushed teeth.
 
“I don’t know, Buddy. It’s late.”
 
“But –“
 
“But you know I can’t resist a dance party. Just a few minutes though.”
 
My little boy high-steps across the cushions. Crazy witching-hour light spirals in his eyes. I find a Fios station sizzling with Latin hip hop and feel a roundness start to pull at my hips. Bug leaps off the couch and hurls his full mass at me. I step back and bend down to face him. “I don’t want you throwing yourself into me. Please keep your body to yourself.”
 
“Okay okay okay,” he says. He jumps across the room and turns several lurching circles. I wave my arms in the air and he waves his. He’s grinning so big. He starts towards me again.
 
“Let me go under you like when I was swimming,” he says. I make my legs into a bridge. “Okay, go!” I laugh. He squeezes himself small and pushes halfway through. Then, like Pooh and the honey pot, he gets stuck. He grabs at my knees pretending he can’t get out, arching his spine up, trying to lift and topple me.
 
“Baby!” I laugh. “Please don’t grab! Go through. Can you. . . um. . .” I shake myself off and step over him. Anything to keep him interested? Anything competitive? “Can you turn ten circles without falling down?”
 
He ignores me. He has outgrown these diversionary tactics. “Spin me around!” He cries. “Please? Spin me!”
 
“Buddy, can’t you just dance? Watch Mommy.” The beat is right on top, plain and simple. “See? I listen to the ba-ba-ba there, like that. And it makes my feet go –“
 
Please just spin me?” He backs into me and presses his shoulders into my belly.
 
My boy knows rhythm. We have been moving to these beats since he was floating fetal in me. It has never stopped. When he was two, three, four, we draped ourselves in scarves and sequins. The living room was Pagan bonfire. Castle ball. Disco. Catwalk. He knows dance.
 
He chooses clash.
 
“How about this,” I try one last time. “Saturday night fever!” For a moment, he copies me. In one Kumbia half-step, he’s turned the diagonal disco arm into a gun. He shoots. Showers me with bullets. Then he’s after me again, skewering me with the bayonet.
 
“Wow.” I stop and marvel at him surging against any exposed inch of me. “You are so intense.” I grab him and flip him around so he’s facing out. He shrieks in delight. “There’s this thing called DANCING,” I say, jamming my forearms under his armpits and gripping my hands together across his chest. “Dancing is this really nice thing people do sometimes. It doesn’t involve head-on collisions!” I lift him, turning around and around, trying to make sure his feet clear the coffee table. He is breathless with giggles. My muscles shudder with the effort.
 
I put him down suddenly. “Oh my gosh,” I say.
 
“What?” He breathes hard, face bright. He is yanking on my wrists, his body begging for more.
 
“I’m totally wrong. There is a dance made just for you.”
 
“What is it?”
 
“Let me show you.” I fire up YouTube. In seconds, a grainy recording of Bad Brains at some now-defunct DC club pipes sweaty kids into our living room. Artillery fire vocals, distorted guitars, and slamming flesh.
 
“That right there? That’s a mosh pit.” I tell Bug. “I bet that’s exactly where you are going to end up.” He watches for a second then starts to bend and arch. I click onward, finding Fugazi and a shirtless Ian MacKaye cracking his voice against a roomful of ricochet and roar. Bug is thrumming now. A moment later, I land on “London Calling” but it is just a music video. I start to click to find another live recording but Bug tells me to stop. “Leave it on! I like this song,” he says.
 
“You do?”
 
And I don’t have to hear an answer to know. He is in my grasp again, fastening my arms over his shoulders like a harness. He grips my biceps and tightens the hold, rocking from foot to foot to the bass. Then my boy is swinging left, right, a metronome on 184. “More!” he cries. “Faster!”
 
“More what?” I shout.
 
“More this! This! More. . . woah,” He propels the swing further over, velocity from the balls of his feet, our shared force pulling out from my rooted center.
 
“Never shake a baby!” I laugh. Joe Strummer predicts the apocalypse as my kid hollers, “Harder, Mommy! Faster!” My legs quiver. The coil of my spine groans but complies as I launch this charged weight back and forth, catching the full impact and returning with equal power.
 
The Clash spools out and my body buckles as the pendulum runs aground. Bug tries to jump-start the engine by yanking against my shoulders.
 
“Enough,” I say.
 
“Not enough!” he says. “More!”
 
Of course. Too much is never enough. I grab him in a rough hug and wrestle him to the ground. He shrieks and pushes against me. Feral and ferocious, my child is growl. He is drive. He will find his pack and bang out a strange tattoo upon the earth. Lyric, dance, screech, clash. Each is his reject or claim, to rip out the chords and re-assemble to a beat he chooses as his own.
 

Creativity, Happy Days

Happy 100 Days: 7

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, everything was exactly right. Everything, that is, except for one little burr under my saddle.
 
The cheese grits and cranberry sauce were prepped and ready for morning. Presents were heaped under the tree. Shrek on the TV was babysitting my kid while the grownups sat in a circle around the kitchen table gabbing about things that were of no interest to him. The cousins who happen to be near Bug’s age were off with their other grandmother for the evening. The only other big kid in the house had grown up so much, he was more interested in finishing up Ulysses than in playing cards or hide-and-seek with the resident 6-year-old.
 
Between the raucous stories in the kitchen and Shrek in the living room, everyone seemed content.
 
So, why was I feeling like the Grinch?
 
This Dallas gathering has been a bright cacophony.  We are immersed in family and busy-ness, yet somehow, I am unsatisfied with the familiar chaos. Something is missing. Of course, this is the first time I have had Bug at Christmas since Tee and I broke up. But it is more than just not being with Bug’s dad. It is also the loss of ways we had created together when we became a family. Where are the Christmas carols? The nighttime walks? The outings for ice skating? The group games?
 
Why won’t anyone here sit down with my kid and play with him?
 
One thing about Tee that attracted me to him was his tribe.  They have created ways of being together and being in community that expand a person’s spirit. Hell, the first time I met his family, we attended his older sister’s wedding which took place at a YMCA camp. We celebrated her marriage with canoe races and zip lines. Tee’s family’s annual caroling party is a city-wide epic undertaking. Every holiday is an endless string of group sledding adventures and multi-generational board games. These activities are not grafted on; they are woven deeply into the fabric of their family. A person barely has to try. It is all there for the taking.
 
Of course, I couldn’t stay married just to his family. It’s a package deal. The just-add-water approach of patching a new name onto the end of my own is not an option (and didn’t work, after all).
 
The holidays are just another reminder that even in the midst of the chattering, loving embrace of my extended family, I do have to grow up and figure out how to cobble the new ways together from whatever I have on hand.
 
I know that in the coming years, Bug and I will be on our own for the holidays. We can make our own traditions. It’s just that I don’t want to wait. I wish I knew how to break familiar habits, or at least bend them enough now to put into place some of the activities I would like us to nurture in our home. It is so hard to push against the settled ways to create room for these things. It gets tiring to suggest them and to face a wall of derision and resistance. It isn’t just me. I have seen others try before me and eventually give up.
 
As the movie wound down, I pulled out paper and crayons.
 
“Sweetie, what are we going to do for Santa?”
 
Bug scooted off the couch and started re-arranging things in the den. He hung his stocking, clearing the conch shells and driftwood out from the unused brick fireplace so Santa wouldn’t knock them over. He put out the milk and cookies. Then, he sat down and wrote the note.
 
“What about the sugar?” He asked when he was finished.
 
“The sugar?”
 
“Yeah. For the donkey.” He explained that Santa has a donkey who travels with the reindeer and helps fly. Something about keeping Rudolph company up front? It was all very vague, yet Bug was firm in his knowledge. This revelation required us to fill a bowl with white sugar to feed Santa’s donkey. We also put out ten baby carrots for the reindeer. Bug arranged all of these treats in a circle around the note on the coffee table in the den.
 
“Alright, buddy. Bedtime.”
 
Bug raced to the back bedroom, leaping onto the bed, bouncing and singing nonsense.
 
“Dance, Mommy!” He had music in his bones. He shook his rear end in my direction and giggled hysterically.
 
“Where’s that iPod of mine?” I asked.
 
We found it and clicked on Bug’s favorite new tune from One Direction, that unavoidable pop number, “That’s What Makes you Beautiful.” Without speakers, the boy-band’s voices came out even tinnier and, well, tinier.
 
Bug marched around the mattresses on the floor in his jammies, bopping his shoulders and spinning in circles. Then, in a burst of excitement, he threw open the door and raced down the hallway.
 
“CHRISTMAS EVE DANCE PARTY!” He grabbed my mom from the kitchen. “Come ON, Gramma!” He dragged her into the bedroom. “DANCE!”
 
Laughing, she swayed her hips. “I can’t even hear it! What are we listening to?”
 
Bug didn’t stop to respond. He just clicked the iPod to repeat and cruised out the door.  “I’m going to get more people!”
 
One by one, he dragged every member of the family into the bedroom. First an aunt, then another, then my dad. The big cousin. An uncle. Eventually, even his ancient great-grandmother was balanced on her cane in the doorway looking both confused and delighted.
 
“Dance, everybody! It’s a Christmas Eve dance party!” Bug called. He leaped and spun and sprang across the floor, weaving between his assembled family members. Everyone swayed and grinned and made embarrassed faces at one another. As the song wound down, they began to disappear.
 
“Whew, that’s enough for me,” said one aunt.
 
“Me, too. I’m pooped!” The aunt’s boyfriend followed her back down the hallway.
 
Chuckling, folks called “Merry Christmas! Good night!”  My mom and one aunt, true troopers, stuck it out to the last chord. Then, pink-cheeked and breathless, everyone said goodnight and I shut the door.
 
“Let’s get ready for sleep, Buddy, so Santa can come.”
 
“Okay!” He said, and collapsed onto the bed.
 
My boy, not realizing that such things are not done, broke the rules and created something new. Santa’s entourage includes a donkey. At Christmas now, this member of the team simply Is and Always Has Been.  Might the same be true for bringing music, dance and play to this place? Perhaps we do not need to wait. Maybe we don’t even need to try. It might be as simple as saying, “This is what we do. Come on! Join us!”