I’ve tried out many classes for babies and toddlers with Boone and each time he’s responded with an almost obstinate lack of participation. Depending on my mood, I’ve put it down to his age or personality or lack of interest or a combination of all of the above. But when I came across a music class at a local music school last September, I forgot about all of that and instead thought: Hey! Boone loves music! We should go! I signed us up for a full term of classes not because I wanted to but because that was the only way to sign up. When I told him we were going to a music class, he said he wanted to do one thing (and one thing only) and that was play a guitar. This is because he’s a rock star. Here’s the evidence:
He wears sunglasses all the time. Rain or shine, whether he’s inside or out, the glasses are on. It’s his signature look. I bought them last summer on a whim, thinking that kids look adorable-ridiculous in sunglasses. I predicted that Boone would never wear them and that they’d end up looking just plain ridiculous on one of the teddies but no, Boone really likes his accessories and cannot leave the house without them.
Because of this signature look (and the fact that he’s a rock star), he gets a lot of attention wherever we go. Mechanics, shop keepers, bank tellers, teachers, librarians, members of the general public, they all say the same thing: “Ooooh, Mr. Cooool,” and “Who’s the cooool duuuude?” and “I like your glasses.” Boone responds to these people by first giving them a very deadpan look and then in a very tired, very weary Joaquin Phoenix-playing-Johnny Cash-voice, he’ll say, “No, just Boone.”
We’ve tried explaining to him that he also has a surname, but he’s not really into this idea. I mean, does Bono have a surname? No.
From time to time, he comes up with some cutting-edge lyrics. They’re usually loosely based on his experience with the book Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and the twentytrucks.com Youtube channel and they go something like this: “The work is done, now we have our fun!”
Besides the guitar, his other favourite instruments to play are the “harmonicer” (he does share a birthday with Bob Dylan, after all, and sometimes, he’ll even try to play the guitar and harmonica at the same time), the “flute” (tin-whistle), and “peee-ahn-oh.” He doesn’t seem to care all that much for percussion instruments. I think everyone knows that drummers aren’t really rock stars. They’re drummers.
The other day, he met a little boy wearing a t-shirt with a guitar on it. Boone asked him, in all seriousness, “Are you in a band?” The other little boy didn’t really understand the question so he automatically launched into “No, I’m not!” “You are, you are, you are!” replied Boone. This panto banter beloved of toddlers went on for a good five minutes. They they split due to artistic differences.
Speaking of guitars, he’s already gone all experimental and pulled a string out of the guitar in the picture, above. Trashing hotel rooms is next, obviously.
So, we arrive at the first music class but no one else does except the teacher. I should have made my excuses and left then but I’d paid for the block of classes. I get talking to the teacher, who seemed very nice, and then she mentioned the word “curriculum.” I suggested that she finish her sentence with the word “flexible” but she responded with, “Oh no, I always keep to the curriculum.” It’s in situations like this where several years of teaching experience and a master’s degree in applied linguistics—one of the core courses being on curriculum planning and implementation—does not really help because if there’s one thing I’ve learned through experience and training it’s that the words “curriculum” and “flexible” should always go together.
Boone clung to me for the entire class, wailing “wanna play guh-taaar,” on repeat. From time to time, he’d make for the door in search of said guh-tar. As it turns out, there were no guitars in the class, only percussion instruments. The class ended with bubbles (the teacher’s) and tears (Boone’s).
Over the next few weeks, more children came to the class and while most of the classes didn’t end in tears, Boone never participated. He didn’t sing along or clap his hands or stomp his feet. He beat the drum, sometimes, but after a few whacks would just give up. His favourite activity seemed to be when the instruments were tidied away and we said goodbye. All of this wouldn’t have been so bad had most of the other children not followed along with the teacher’s instructions and had the teacher not then praised these children for, and I quote, “getting it right.” Wait, I wanted to say, was that activity really a game or was it actually a test? It also didn’t help matters when these activities were set up with an attitude of “we’ll see how this goes” as in “let’s set the children up to fail.” When Boone didn’t react quickly enough to the teacher’s requests, the activity or instrument would be snatched away and passed onto the next child because heaven forbid a two-year-old in a toddler music class should slow down the curriculum. I began to feel the pain of being dismissed by a teacher. And it felt like shit.
Naturally, this whole experience put me into a tailspin about early childhood institutional education. Was it possible that this sort of class could kill Boone’s love of music? How could a child who tells me to “plaaaaay the muuuuuuuusic” if I forget to turn it on when we get into the car and “leave the music onnnnnnn” if I dare turn it off, end up in tears in a music class? Why would a child who, on hearing this song, stops whatever he is doing so that he can clap his hands and tap his foot, but in this situation sits on his hands?
Maybe it was my fault for not playing nursery rhymes around the house or in the car? I did try to do nursery rhymes, once, the time I bought a bottle of Calpol that came with a free CD of nursery rhymes. I tried playing them in the car but the East End stage school accents of the children got to me; that, and the fact that nursery rhymes, in general, remind of a time when corporal punishment was considered a good idea.
Maybe it was because we’re those parents that don’t “do” kids’ music but instead expose our child to every other genre of music? Grant it, I have wondered if some of these genres are potentially inappropriate for his age group, particularly when he lets us know how fond he is of Jay-Z’s “100$ bill” or that time I heard him shout “Heard shots from the crowd. Bam! Check it out!” (That gem would be from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. We may or may not have a thing for Baz Luhrmann soundtracks.) I like to think that more than the (expletive) letter of this music, he’s drawn to the spirit of it: rebellion, fun, social commentary, life. Besides, have you ever listened to the lyrics of nursery rhymes? They’re replete with violence and threats of abandonment. I mean, the woman with too many children doesn’t know what to do so she gives them all a crap dinner and whips them all soundly before putting them to bed; the five little ducks go missing for days yet their mother doesn’t seem too fussed about looking for them. Then there’s the baby who’s been left up in a tree, of all places, only for the bough to break and the baby to fall, presumably, to their death. Jay-Z isn’t a patch on this stuff.
Anyway, it’s not all guns and bitches over here. Sometimes we go in for the emotionally heavy genres, as well: there was the Grizzly Bear (“Grizee Bayur”) phase the year before last, the time Janis Joplin’s “Ball and Chain” became a lullaby and of course, the bad taste trance phase. Perhaps more “fun” are Phoenix (so light! so something else!) who have been en boucle (had to, they’re French) for over a year now, with Boone telling me each time I play their songs that “Mama went to a concert. Mama had lots and lots of fun!” Then, there’s his favourite band, Fleet Foxes or, as he calls them, “Feet Fock-es.” Of course, this leads me to believe that he likes harmonies and music with choral elements, which then leads me to commit the parental sin of putting all my hopes and dreams on my son and when I say all my hopes and dreams, I mean the ones where there’s an angelic little boy with blonde hair, wearing one of those choral gowns (complete with high frilly collar), singing “we’re waw-king in the ay-uh,” angelically. It’s about two degrees away from Toddlers and Tiaras. Next thing I know I’ll be saying things like “if he ever tells us he’s not having fun anymore, we’ll stop.” But now I’m just running away with myself.
So, after careful examination, I decided that neither Boone nor I were the problem, the class was. I was all prepared to have a little chat with the teacher about the effect of singling individual children out for praise but instead, towards the end of the term, I asked Boone if he wanted to go to the class or go shopping. He chose shopping.
I was relieved that we weren’t going anymore but I was also disappointed, not only because I’d lost out money-wise, but because, yet again, the social space that is available to me as a stay-at-home mother (do not get me started on how much I hate that phrase) was made that bit smaller. It’s made out in the media or whatever that the worst part of my life must be taking care of a small child but it’s not. I like taking care of Boone—not every minute of every day, much like with any of my paid jobs, but in general I like it. The worst part is that there are just a few places that are deemed suitable social outlets for us, some of which are these classes, where if it’s not Boone being made feel like he’s the problem for not “getting it right,” I’m being told to be quiet. “Shush, mums chatting down the back!” are actual words (stated in a very serious, non-joking manner) I’ve heard more than once at these things. It makes me want to scream “What do you think we came here for?! To sing nursery rhymes and clap our hands?! Even the kids haven’t come to do that! Don’t you know we’re here for the cup of tea at the end? Don’t you know we’re here to try and build some sort of community in this community-less modern world, to build social networks for our children?” I never say this, of course, because I’m too dumbfounded by the lack of respect I’ve just been shown.
I’m never ever going to one of these classes ever again! But I have just enrolled Boone into playschool for two mornings a week. . .