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Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Leonard Chess Edition

This week, let’s pay tribute to a cornerstone of the Chicago music scene, Leonard Chess. Over 60 years ago, he and his brother Phil launched Chess Records, the label that launched the careers of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, among others, releasing some of the most vital records in blues and rock ‘n’ roll history. Sure, Leonard may have engaged in questionable business practices, but the list of honest record executives starts (and may end) with Corey Rusk (NOTE: this is an exaggeration). But Chess is simply a seminal label that changed the face of music — and it happened here in Chicago. So pay tribute to Leonard and the Chess roster by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. Nada Surf — Blonde on Blonde (Let Go): This Anglophile band managed to shake their novelty one-hit wonder status and make some really good albums in the vein of The Bends-era Radiohead. Unlike their British contemporaries, such as Coldplay and Keane, Nada Surf is not about overkill. Indeed, there’s a distinct measure of ’80s college radio rock in their sound, meaning that even when the band ups the drama, they don’t go over the top. This is a low key mid-tempo tune that reminds me a little bit of The House Of Love.
  2. Simon & Garfunkel — The Dangling Conversation (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme): What’s amazing about S & G is how their many hits, for the most part, only reveal a few aspects of Paul Simon’s amazing songwriting talents. The duo added a pop lushness to folk-rock and combined with Simon’s acute lyrics and sense of grandeur, this made for some of the best music of the ’60s. Since they were such a major pop act, I think they aren’t considered with the more conventional rock acts of the period. This is a shame. Their music may have been softer, but Simon is right up there with Ray Davies when it comes to observational songwriting.
  3. Ohio Players — Sweet Sticky Thing (): While best know for their funk hits “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster”, the Ohio Players had their softer moments too. This is a mid-tempo number that appears to have been an attempt to ape The Isley Brothers’ loverman shtick. It’s not as good as the Isleys, but it has such a winning soft vibe and some cool saxophone work.
  4. Slow Jets — Dreams Come Out (Remain in Ether): A Baltimore band who followed down the path blazed by bands like The Embarrassment. This is off-kilter indie rock, catchy but not straightforward. This song has a bit of a Pere Ubu touch with spacey keyboard noises and tones augmenting the guitar based song. Good song.
  5. Ross — LaughCream (Supersonic Spacewalk): Ross is a Spanish power pop artist with a wavering command of the English language. His songs are laden with guitars and sweeping harmony vocals. This song has a bit of an Electric Light Orchestra vibe with some psychedelic pop tricks.
  6. The Cars — Moving In Stereo (The Cars): A great nocturnal driving track from one of the great debut albums of the ’70s. The Cars were considered a new wave band when they began, and with their wide variety of influences, including the Velvet Underground and Roxy Music, that was as a good a spot for them as anywhere. This is such a great piece of mood music, with Greg Hawkes’ gloomy keyboards and Elliot Easton’s atmospheric guitar work. And producer Roy Thomas Baker should get credit for the mechanistic drum sound, which fits the rest of the track so well.
  7. Kid Creole & The Coconuts — Things We Said Today (To Travel Sideways): A nifty take on the well known Beatles song. Kid Creole finds a way to fit the tune into his patented supper club funk/salsa mix, while not messing with the classic haunting melody.
  8. Supergrass — Cheapskate (In It For The Money): While the first Supergrass album is probably the favorite of most fans, its on the brilliant second album where Gaz Coombes’ songwriting fully flourished. Indeed, when this came up, I had to check which album it was off of, since the band has generally been so consistent from this point forward. This song has a great R & B rhythm base and is a fine example of how good pop-rock songwriting often involves building up tension in the verses and then releasing it with a wide open melody in the chorus.
  9. Merle Haggard — I Made the Prison Band (Branded Man): Has anyone done a compilation of Merle Haggard songs about being in prison, committing a crime or getting out of prison? It would cover at least two CDs. During the late ’60s, Haggard was bursting with great honky-tonk tunes, especially on this fantastic album.
  10. Real Cool Killers — Something’s Wrong (The Violence Inherent In The System): French band rocking out on a track from a stellar compilation of European bands put together by Steve Gardner, who used to publish the Noise For Heroes fanzine and later wrote for The Big Takeover. The songs on this compilation are inspired by the Stooges, New York Dolls, The Cramps among others. This song could be passed off as the work of some Aussie punk band of the early ’80s.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod

Nicole Oppenheim: Ear Candy writesMidwestern Housewife - I Like my Sugar with Coffee and Cream*

Initially, I purchased the Dum-Dum pops because I thought they’d be kind of a fun little treat for the kids once in a while. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d come to curse the existence of that little cartoon drum figure and the insulin-spiking, fruit-ish flavored globs of pure evil on a stick that he peddles. Dum-Dum pops, almost at the bottom of the candy hierarchy in my humble estimation (they rank just above Laffy Taffy/Now ‘N’ Laters, and those weird British licorice things that look like black spots of tar surrounded by day-glo pink, yellow, or orange fondant. Yuck.), have become my kids’ junk food obsession du jour.

Frankly, I’d rather eat a nearly-petrified peanut butter drop from my grandmother’s purse than a Dum-Dum pop. It’s not that they’re gross, it’s just that they’re so boring. It’s like they’re trick candy. You think it’s a delicious treat, but NOOOOOOOOO. It’s really furniture polish or LSD or crystallized goat innerds. Dum-Dums are suspicious. I don’t trust them. People give them out at the bank, for Chrissakes! And yet I bought them for my children. Such are the lengths a mom will go to to keep her kids quiet for 10 seconds.

Given my distaste for Dum-Dums, I never thought my kids would take to them more than cookies, cupcakes, marshmallows, or another type of mass-produced confectionary treat. Yet, as I type this, there’s a huge jar of them up high on a shelf in my kitchen with two little kids dancing a pagan jig beneath it, clamoring for the sugary goodness that only the Dum-Dums in question can deliver.

When I ask my daughter what she wants for breakfast each morning, the response it always the same: “lollipops!” When I tell her that lollipops are not a breakfast food and she can, instead, choose from cereal, eggs, fruit, waffles, yogurt, toast or a muffin, she shifts into Linda Blair mode and screams as though I’ve burnt up her favorite toy in the furnace. I always turn my head away slightly to avoid the pea soup that I’m certain she’ll spew at any second. Seriously. It’s frightening how quick the transformation can be from happy, compliant toddler to twisted demonic banshee hell-bent on destruction due to the utterance of a simple word: No. Yikes!

Her brother has a slightly more devious approach. Instead of getting upset at being denied the sugary snack for breakfast, he will seemingly shrug it off and walk away. Does he wait patiently at the table for toast and jam? Does he go to the refrigerator and grab some yogurt? Does he pick a banana out of the fruit bowl on the island in our kitchen? Oh, no. Instead, he attempts to scale the shelving unit on which the lollipop jar rests. Or he pulls the drawers out from under the counter, climbs up them onto said counter, and attempts a 10’ standing long jump across the kitchen to the shelving unit in the hope that he may land somewhere in the vicinity of the lollipops. I would applaud and encourage his feats of athleticism if I weren’t so scared that he’ll break his neck, or worse, the shelving unit. Those things can be pricey!

Seriously, though, I feel like a drug dealer. I’ve unintentionally gotten my kids hooked on the white stuff: Pure, unadulterated sugar. I’m sure pediatric endocrinologists and dentists alike approve of my innocent blunder. It’s seemingly innocuous mistakes like mine that keep them in business. But I curse the day I ever put that brightly colored bag of treats into my grocery cart. Fortunately, my kids haven’t stopped eating their vegetables and they always leave room for dinner, but still. The lollipop obsession is annoying and I’d love to put a stop to it. I know I can’t do this without creating a mutinous environment in my house, so I’m taking aim elsewhere. The lollipops can stay, for now, but other junk has got to go!

In an effort to cut down on the amount of processed and pre-packaged foods my kids eat, I’ve decided to start making much of my own bread, waffles, crackers, etc. I know what you’re thinking: “But, Nicole, that’s just more work for you!” Yes. Yes, it is. However, having received an amazing bread maker for my 32nd birthday (thanks, Sweetie!), it’s not as bad as it sounds. The bread machine has turned the tedious job of making bread at home to something so easy, even my 3-year-olds can do it—as long as Mommy’s around to do the measuring and push the buttons on the machine. My advice? If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. It is so choice. (Full points to anyone who gets that reference.)

Likewise, I picked up a cheap waffle maker from Walgreen’s (of all places!) last week. It was ten bucks and I’ve already used three times. The recipe it came with produced heavy, terrible waffles, that I could probably sell to the IOC for use in a gold medal hockey game. But a Google search remedied that. I found a much more suitable recipe in about 5 minutes thanks to the magic of the interwebs. Subsequent uses have yielded light, fluffy, TASTY waffles better than pretty much any others I’ve eaten. All this from relatively inexpensive kitchen machinery and ingredients I already had in my pantry. Sweet.

So how do the kids like the change thus far? Frankly, they love it. They get to help make their own food by putting pre-measured ingredients into the bread machine, helping me stir the waffle batter (the best part being when they get to lick the spoon, of course) and using their great-grandmother’s heavy rolling pin to flatten the cracker dough. I tried letting them sprinkle salt and sesame seeds on the crackers, but that devolved into a ridiculous food fight that was damn near impossible to clean up—the dog is still shaking out the occasional seed from her fur. So, as with every other parenting aspect, it’s all about trial and error.

And none of this even takes into consideration how much more the kids like what they eat. As anyone who’s ever made bread at home can tell you, it tastes significantly better than what you can buy at the store. It doesn’t last as long from a hardening- and mold-growing perspective, but smaller loaves mean fresher loaves. Plus, the kids feel a sense of pride at having contributed to making their own food. They’re starting to understand it and see the connection between what’s on the shelf and what goes into their tummies. As a parent, that’s pretty cool to see. (As an aside, I feel the need to give Michelle Obama some serious props for bringing this issue to the national stage via her organic garden. Any time people get the chance to take a direct hand in the production of their own food, they will benefit. Yay, Michelle!)

I realize that this effort is not something that everyone is willing or able to undertake. Not everyone has the time or energy to make much of their own food. But, as any of my friends or family members can tell you, I’m a total control freak who distrusts industrialized food products, so the production of food at home is ideal for me. I control what goes into the food, so I know it’s good. Now that I make the waffles my kids eat, I don’t worry what hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and/or preservatives are doing to their little systems. Likewise, the bread I make doesn’t have any ingredients you’d need an advanced degree in Chemistry to identify.

All of this makes me sleep much better at night and keeps me from begrudging my kids their lollipops. Yes, I wish they’d get as excited for fruit and veggies as they do for candy, but I’m not living in the Twilight Zone here. I know that will never happen as long as humans are hard-wired to crave sugar- and fat-laden foods. But it is nice to think that I might be imparting some small appreciation of good, healthy food to my kids. And isn’t that one of the best things I can do as a parent? Give my kids good food, nurture their innate self-confidence and curiosity and then turn them loose on the world to discover, learn, and grow? Yup. That pretty much sums it up. And if Dum-Dum pops are part of that experience, I can live with it. There are worse things. Like Velveeta. Seriously. Processed “cheese food” that requires no refrigeration? What? Who decided THAT was a good idea? Frightening.

*This title was stolen directly from “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys.

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Categorized: Midwestern Housewife

Topics: midwestern housewife

Mike Bennett writesipod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Johnny Cash Edition

In 1972, I was in the living room with my mom and dad watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. Johnny Cash was singing a song live from the WLAC-TV studios in Nashville. During the performance, there was a camera shot from behind the Man In Black, and there, in the front row, was my Grandmother and Grandfather Booth. I was so excited. I would have been even more excited had they not cut away from the local feed after the performance, as my Grandfather went on the stage and gave Johnny a check for Muscular Dystrophy from the insurance conglomerate for which he worked. I have a picture of that presentation in my home. It’s hard to sum up Johnny Cash in a few words. He was a special part of American music, representing rebellion and a gentle spiritual side, but his religious songs didn’t proselytize — they dealt with the complexity of human behavior. Moreover, he was always, always cool. So in honor of Johnny, grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. Donovan — Hurdy Gurdy Man (Love Is Hot, Truth Is Molten): Of course, I already knew this song (and also enjoyed the Butthole Surfers’ version), a fey psychedelic classic when I got this Australian compilation from the awesome Raven label. This generous comp spans Donovan’s prime ’60s work, from his days as a slavish Dylan imitator until he discovered his own flower power voice. Donovan isn’t great overall, but he did a lot of great work.
  2. Scissor Sisters — Lovers In The Back Seat (Scissor Sisters): This album was a revelation. A band that mixed disco, sometimes in a Pet Shop Boys-ish fashion, and classic ’70s pop, with a strong Elton John influence, and was proud to be pop. I haven’t listened to the whole thing in a while, but I think it may be a classic. The follow up was a bit overdone and I’m anxious to hear album number three, whenever that is. This is just a really good song, probably not too far from Robbie Williams’ better material.
  3. The Kinks — You Still Want Me (Greatest Hits): A rare early Kinks number that doesn’t really have a distinctive personality. This sounds more in the vein of The Searchers, a solid beat group harmony vocal number. It’s nice, but not a Grade A Kinks tune.
  4. Blur — Fade Away (The Great Escape): The Great Escape is my favorite Blur album, because it is the most multi-dimensional of their Brit pop efforts. On this album, the influence of Madness seems pretty strong, as illustrated by this ska-inflected number with a melancholy horn section and a haunting chorus. The trilogy of albums — Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife and The Great Escape — is one of the better runs of the era.
  5. Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats — Rocket 88 (The Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll): This three CD compilation gathers early rock sides along with key pre-rock jazz, blues and country numbers. When musicologists debate what is the first rock ‘n’ roll song, this tune is certainly part of that conversation. The up-and-down rhythm on the bass, the swinging drumming and the lively piano and sax are all touchstones of the early rock ‘n’ roll sound. Regardless, an enduring classic.
  6. The Shazam — Oh No! (The Shazam): A great track from the best power pop band of the past 10 years or so. Hans Rotenberry has mastered the punchy pop sound typified by certain sides by The Who and The Move and perfected by Cheap Trick. Of course, none of this would mean anything if the band didn’t have such a big sound, with a beefy rhythm section and great guitar playing. And Rotenberry has scads of personality as a vocalist. Someday, when there’s a Nuggets of Late ’90s/early ’00s power pop, The Shazam will be one of the dominant bands on the collection.
  7. The Move — Wild Tiger Woman (Movements: 30th Anniversary Anthology): Hey, speak of the devil! Here’s the real thing. The early Move was full of masterfully melodic proto-Brit pop songs. Then, as time went on, they began to rock more and more. Sometimes it was with pure brute power, in a way that may have influenced fellow Birmingham rockers Black Sabbath. Other times, there was more of a ’50s vibe, as on this Roy Wood composition. Everything The Move did deserves attention.
  8. The Yardbirds — Here ‘Tis (Ultimate!): My iPod is leaning to the ’60s today. This is an early Yardbirds tune, when they were one of the most authentic blues/R & B bands amongst the British Invasion brigade. This song has a bit of a Bo Diddley feel, though it doesn’t have a classic Bo Diddley beat. This is the blues accelerated, and it blows away about 99 percent of the garage bands working today.
  9. The Sights — The Hott Seat (Are You Green?): This Detroit band was 80 percent garage rock with the other 20 percent being other ’60s rock influences. The debut mixes some great pop hooks with some intense rocking. This song is lifted a bit from Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”, using the basic rhythm as a jumping off point for some guitar freakouts. A fairly decent instrumental and quite short.
  10. Tubeway Army — It Must Have Been Years (Replicas): The album that made Gary Numan a star in England holds up so well. He made the most of his limited voice, making it a vehicle for his paranoid sci-fi fantasies. Replicas is a concept album, which, like most concept albums, isn’t well fleshed out in the lyrics. As Numan explained it, the British government has determined that it must program computers and robots to solve the country’s intractable problems. The computers determine that the real problem is humans, and seeks to kill them all. Cheery stuff. This tune is the best showcase for Numan’s underrated guitar playing. It really rocks.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod

Mike Bennett writesipod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Peter Holsapple Edition

I’m passing on some major birthdays (Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Dave Wakeling of The English Beat and, of course, Falco) to honor Peter Holsapple, who, with and without Chris Stamey, did some amazing work with The dB’s in the ’80s and has gone on to The Continental Drifters and further work with Mr. Stamey. I got to interview Peter in college, when The dB’s opened for R.E.M. in Carbondale in 1984. He was a really nice guy with a great sense of humor. Me and my friend Dale ran into him after the gig, he had his hands full, so I opened the door for the band’s van…and a jar of peanut butter rolled out and shattered on the sidewalk below. Holsapple put down his stuff, said in a ceremonious voice, “He broke the jar of peanut butter!” and then said I was entitled to a prize for this deed. He reached in the van and gave me a copy of the new dB’s album, Like This. As an 18-year-old college student, this made me feel really cool, which happened so rarely back in those days. So please honor Mr. Holsapple and grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. The Liquor Giants — I Don’t Know Why (Something Special For The Kids): This is off of the Giants’ all covers album. Unlike most such affairs, the songs are, for the most part, quite obscure. This song was originally done by Sons Of Thunder, who I know nothing about. Ward Dotson and crew bust out the Farfisa for this tinny light garage rock song with almost a girl group feel.
  2. Pavement — Stare (Crooked Rain Crooked Rain): I am such a Johnny Come Lately to the Pavement party. Other than Slanted and Enchanted, there’s no Pavement album I love, as my iPod is introducing me to some of their music. That includes this low key track with a lot of reverb guitar. Not one of Pavement’s shining moments.
  3. Maximo Park — Going Missing (A Certain Trigger): One of the better new wave revivalists of the last decade, the band revolves around Paul Smith’s sharp lyrics and intent personality, which are supported by the tight playing of the supporting band. There are some slight post-punk nods here, but in the service of hooky, melodic ends. Oddly enough, though the band’s sound gets better with each album, the songwriting is a bit weaker each time out. So this debut album is the one to go with, if you’re only having one.
  4. Husker Du — No Promise Have I Made (Candy Apple Grey): Some folks ripped Husker Du a new one back in 1985, when they released their first major label album. Songs like this piano ballad from Grant Hart are why. This is an achingly tender ballad with a raw vocal performance from Hart. While this may have ticked off punk formalists, for those of us who were fans of Hart and Bob Mould as writers, hearing them expand their sound, retaining their emotional core was a great thing. A good song off a darned good album.
  5. The dB’s — Dynamite (Stands For Decibels): Hey! A birthday match!!! A very typical Chris Stamey song from the first dB’s album. Stamey was heavily influenced by Radio City-era Big Star and it’s reflected in this quirky power pop tune. Stamey drawls and draws out the melody, while Will Rigby punctuates and moves along the proceedings on the drums. Peter Holsapple adds some roller rink keyboards on one of many outstanding songs on this LP.
  6. Randy Newman — Mr. President (Have Pity on a Working Man)(Good Old Boys): The fact that Newman got any traction in the rock world is partially a testament to the notion that a well written song is a well written song. Other than the rhythm of this song, this tune could have been written in the ’30s, with its hint of a ragtime influence. The lyrics are more acerbic, of course. This is a second tier Randy Newman song, which is better than most writers first tier material.
  7. Pere Ubu — Heaven (Datapanik In The Year Zero): I got into Pere Ubu after they reunited, and had to work my way backwards to their early stuff. Some of it is dark, some of it is inaccessible, but some songs show that the band’s alleged pop moves in the late ’80s were foreshadowed. This is a pretty jaunty song, but for the industrial humming keyboard that oscillates throughout the song. Pere Ubu is the embodiment of one of the few maxims of music that I live by — you can’t screw with song form unless you know how to write a good song in the first place. This is a straightforward good song — most of the time they are messing with that form.
  8. Buck Owens — A-11 (Buck Owens Collection): This is one of Buck’s classic hits, a honky tonk lament about a guy who doesn’t want to hear a song on the jukebox that will dredge up awful memories. Of course, I’m sure Buck actually wanted people to play “A-11” on jukeboxes in honky tonks throughout the land, and I don’t know if anyone was averse to this song, even if wasn’t selection number A-11 on an actual jukebox.
  9. The Cardigans — Life (Rise & Shine): The first two Cardigans albums are soft-pop classics and it seems like subsequent releases found the band distancing itself from its past, as if it were embarrassed. They should be embarrassed about the sleepy serious recent efforts which waste the talents of Nina Persson, who is made for these sunny retro-‘60s pop numbers. One key to these songs is that The Cardigans were a rock band, so they played these soft numbers with a lot of punch, without overwhelming them.
  10. The Four Tops — Something About You (The Singles): I’ll have to check, I think this is a Holland-Dozier-Holland number … it is! This is classic Motown, with a driving rhythm and typically strong vocals (though Levi Stubbs does not take the lead) from the Tops. This is still the sound of Young America, for my money

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod

Nicole Oppenheim: Ear Candy writesMidwestern Housewife - The Kids are Alright

On Saturday mornings and afternoons, my beloved husband takes over the child-rearing duties which enables me to run necessary errands (groceries, dry cleaning, pharmacy runs, etc.) and also to have some time to myself. Because I’m the biggest dork in the universe, I tend to frequent stores selling fabric, art/craft supplies, coffee, and records. (Hey, Entrepreneurs! I would LIVE in a store that sold all of these things under one roof. I’m just sayin’.) But really, any location that offers relative peace and quiet and a chance for me to geek out about some of my favorite things is where I’ll be on any given Saturday.

This past Saturday found me indulging the bibliophile side of my personality at the library. After browsing through some new releases and picking up a variety of interesting-looking novels, I headed straight for the art section looking for something to inspire me to complete the piece I’m currently working on. Because I’m a total bookwhore, I couldn’t help glancing at the shelved tomes on the way there. In the parenting section, which I usually avoid like the plague, I spied a book called Bringing Up Happy Children. I hurried past, thinking, “My kids are happy, right?” I paused. Hmmm. Are they? Really? “Crap,” I thought to myself while pivoting on the spot, “I’d better read this book just to make sure.”

Such is the seductive power of so-called self help books. Damn you, Random Author with no extra letters after your name to denote a graduate degree! You have no special training in child psychology or a similar field, and are, therefore, no better qualified to write such a book than I am. You may not even have children! But I am compelled to pick up your book nonetheless. The title is written in a decent font, so you were at least smart enough to hire a qualified graphic designer. Dare I judge a book by its cover? Might you have some insights after all? I doubt it. And I intend to call your bluff.

I touch the book gingerly on its spine. I look around to see if anyone notices. My mind screams, “Nooooooo! Don’t do it! Don’t listen to the voice of doubt! You’re better than this!” And yet, like Orpheus looking back to check on Eurydice, I cannot resist the temptation. What if I’m wrong? What if the seemingly unqualified Random Author does know something I don’t? I quickly slip the book from the shelf into the middle of the pile I’ve amassed. Whew! That was close. That lady over by the computer terminals. Did she see me? Is she smirking? Crap. I abandon the promise of the art section for the time being, hang my head slightly and dash to a nearby study carrel to indulge my insecurities in peace.

Scanning the Table of Contents/List of Childhood Traumas, I ask myself what I’m most dreading as a parent. I’m not going to read the whole book, after all, just the portion that pertains to a truly odious parental responsibility that I’d rather avoid. I hit upon it towards the end of the list: The Talk. That awkward discussion about the birds and the bees that we all had with our hopelessly clueless parents at some point in our lives. Some of us giggled our way through it, others stuffed our fingers in our ears and shrieked “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you! Lalalalalalalalalala!” while we ran at warp speed out of the house. Ah, adolescence. Good times.

I begin the rationalization process: Valentine’s Day is here after all, and with all that romance in the air and naked little putti waiting to hit all unsuspecting humans with their aphrodisiac-tainted love darts, it could happen. My three-year-olds could ask me about where babies come from, right? Yeah, totally plausible. I’d better read up on how Random Author suggests I handle the situation. I turn to the correct page and commence reading.

Yada, yada, yada. Be a good listener. Use correct terminology for body parts. Don’t forget to address the emotional side as well. Yeah. All stuff I already knew. Sweet! My self-awarded Parent of the Millennium status remains intact! I knew it would! Phew, for a minute there I lost myself.*

This entire, and somewhat harrowing, process could have been completely avoided had I simply had confidence in my own parenting skills. My kids are normal toddlers who do not display any behavioral maladies for which I should actively seek out professional help. They aren’t cruel to animals. They don’t start fires. They don’t hit or bite other kids. They don’t even swear! So, what am I doing picking up a parenting-advice book written by a marginally-qualified author? Why this culture of fear and doubt? The problem is larger than the middle class parental milieu to which I belong. It’s endemic to all things American. But this is a subject for a dissertation, not a so-called parenting column written by a marginally-qualified at-home mom in Chicago.

As with all good life experiences, I learned a little something from my time at the library. (And truthfully, isn’t that what libraries are for?) I learned that I shouldn’t listen to the voice of doubt who tells me I may not be doing things correctly. With parenting, there is no incorrect as long as your children are safe and thriving. There’s simply doing what you know and trusting that your kids will be fine. Let’s face it, you survived being brought up by your parents, right? Your kids will survive, too.

When people ask me what I do to get my kids to do X, my answer is always the same: nothing. I’m there to guide them, but they’re driving the stagecoach. When they get too unruly, I calm them. When they get tired, I put them to bed. When they get bored, I read to them or play trains with them or engage in another similar activity that they find fun. I’m not constantly hounding them with flashcards to make sure they’re maximizing learning time, nor am I pushing them to achieve athletically or to become involved in activities I find interesting and/or valuable. Winchie and Squeaky are fine how they are. The world is theirs to explore and they will naturally gravitate toward and learn about things they enjoy.

So to parents who are all freaked out that little Johnny or Susie isn’t reading by the time they’re two or haven’t reached superstar status in their preschool by replicating Rodin sculptures with Play-Doh, I say this: chill. Take a deep breath, throw out all of those What to Expect… books and simply get to know your child/children. Your kids will tell you everything you need to know about them and when problems arise, trust your instincts. You’ll be fine. I promise. You don’t need questionable advice from self-helpers. You are all the authority you need.

Now go out there and have a great Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s kind of a crap holiday created by Hallmark and their ilk, but it celebrates love, which is never a bad thing. Go find a special someone and give him/her a squeeze. And because you are all the authority you need, the location of said squeeze is entirely up to you. * wink, wink *

*Thanks, Thom Yorke! Ok Computer rules!

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Categorized: Midwestern Housewife

Topics: midwestern housewife

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