Six-hundred and fifty miles into a road trip, and my daughter, age 7, from her perch in the back, a pillow to one side, stuffed animal to the other, uttered the words I'd been dreading. Not because I'd never heard them before, but because this was the fourth time I'd heard them since cramming the family in the car the night before.
“Daddy, can we listen to 1989?”
“Not again,” I grumbled to myself, then, out loud, “We listened to Taylor Swift an hour ago, kid.”
She entered negotiations mode. My kids love negotiations mode. “No, this time I want to pick out my favorite songs, last time we listened to it in order.”
Oh God. How was I going to get out of this? I looked out the window for possible distractions. I wondered if I could manage to hold the wheel with my knees while setting up the portable DVD player without waking my wife up.
“Not happening, kid. Let's pick something else.”
There was a pause, and I could hear the wheels turning in her head. Then:
“We can listen to 'Shake It Off,' it's your favorite.”
DAMMIT. Hoist by my own petard.
A while ago a mutual acquaintance posted on Facebook about “balancing the desire to respect my child's artistic preferences with a far stronger desire to deter her from godawful tripe?” I responded, in fairly typical make-lemonade-out-of-lemons mode, “Use it as a gateway to good music.” That, of course, is much easier said than done.
I don't care what side of The Great Cultural Schism Known As Taylor Swift you fall on, but only the biggest adult superfan is going to hold up against endless repetition that borders on some sort of nefarious sonic waterboarding. As a parent, options are fairly limited: You lose any reasonable distance to actually appreciate anything about the music, or you go completely native and fall prey to the cult like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. Somehow, I've managed to do both.
I resisted initially. I was strong. I used a mix of good, old-fashioned flat-out “no” with the the best tools of parenting — deflection and deceit. But “sorry, it's in Mommy's car” or “go listen to it in your room quietly” only lasts so long. I started mixing in the occasional, “OK, you can each pick one song.” Except that my four-year-old son, if put on the spot, will just request the same thing we just listened to.
We started playing rotating DJ, where each person got to pick a song, and it simply wasn't good enough. I settled for redirecting the song selection to songs I didn't mind, like the aforementioned “Shake It Off.” Suddenly they believed it was my “favorite song.” The collection of irritatingly/beautifully produced earworms known as 1989 respects no resistance.
Then I decided, I just didn't give a shit.
Parenting success is not immediately quantifiable. What you're saying or doing might not have an impact today, but it's going to have an impact in the long run. In the short term, you expect things to get off program. No matter how hard you try, kids are going to be bombarded with stupid shit, and they're going to like some of it.
You want to be a hipster parent who doesn't own a TV and only listens to the choicest cuts from the Current? Good luck. Your kids will find a way. It might be a grandparent, or a friend, but often it will be completely, totally without explanation. No matter how many cute videos of them dancing around your kitchen to your favorite songs you've shot, they're going to suddenly break out into some crap you've never heard before at the dinner table. They're going to tell you about weird TV shows featuring ninjas who rescue princess ponies by fighting slugs, or ninja ponies who fight slug princesses. This is going to happen.
Raising a kid is tough, and it's weird. We — at least most of us — want our kids to feel like they can do anything they want if they put their mind to it. At a time when folks are getting ridiculously butthurt over Target deciding that it's not necessary to have a section for “Building Sets” AND “Girl's Building Sets,” I want my kids to feel OK building castles or spaceships or cute pink bakeries.
But I have yet to see a study that shows that obsessive Taylor Swift fandom leads to juvenile delinquency. And I'm fairly certain that with a good amount of effort and patience, my kids will manage to listen to music just as horrible as I did when I was young, and hold on to the good stuff, as I did when I was young.
So bring on the T-Swift. "Welcome To New York"? "Blank Space"? "I Wish You Would"? "New Romantics"? Great. Let's also listen to some Soviettes, and some Otis Redding, and some Clash. And yeah, the next time we listen to "Shake It Off"? We're also going to listen to this, because “Know Your Product” by the Saints is a stone jam.