Punk Parenthood for the Sleep Deprived: Dancin’ Dancin’ Late at Night

Jan 30, 2014

“Milo has good rhythm,” my husband, David, told me the other day.

It’s not the kind of thing he would have mentioned if it weren’t really noticeable. I married a person who has little interest in music. He once told our neighbors that the bass in their speakers was too loud but pronounced it like the fish, not the musical element. So him noticing that our son was banging a sippy cup against the table in perfect time to a video of Elvis Costello singing “The Monster Went and Ate My Red Two” on Sesame Street, was truly remarkable.

Everyone has ideas about how they want their kid to be. It took me forever to get pregnant. By the time it happened, I was so worried about tempting fate and ruining everything that my only regular mantra was “healthyhappybaby, healthyhappybaby.” But sometimes—in moments of uncharacteristic relaxation—I thought beyond all of that and imagined what I’d like him to be like other than a physically and mentally healthy human. My first wish was always that he would like music.
Being the only music lover in the home occasionally gets kind of lonely—as much as I love being the sole person in charge of every piece of music that is ever played in our home. David will put on his “listening face” for a few minutes while I speculate about a possible Sleater Kinney reunion, but eventually he just wants to go read fantasy novels, somewhere far away from the record player.
Milo was introduced to music as soon as we arrived home from the hospital. Maternity leave can be isolating and anxiety-filled, and listening to music with the baby helped me relax. He calmed when I sang to him, he fell asleep when I played him a “fall asleep” playlist, and he eventually began to do a kind of dance, bopping himself up and down when a song he liked was playing. I wore him in a carrier and walked around our kitchen listening to an oldies show on the radio when he began having what are commonly called the Witching Hours (the delightful time when your young baby cries inconsolably between the hours of 4 PM and 9 PM). Song after song played that I could easily sing along to. It was the only thing that calmed him down.
Now he’s just over a year old and he still has music in his life daily. The best part is—while he does seem to like music targeted at kids (like the songs on those Sesame Street videos we let him watch when we all need a break from each other)—he is just as happy with music made for adults. When we get tired of the Sesame Street clips, he’s just as enthralled by the NPR Tiny Desk Concert videos. These are folky, not punk, but they often include less common instruments like trumpets and banjos, which he seems particularly amazed by. I am so excited that he likes watching people play music.
He likes the ritual of putting on a record, too. He’s too young to do it himself, but I let him watch me, and then he’s allowed to have a look at the record sleeves. He points at the speakers when the music starts. He especially likes Mescaleros-era Joe Strummer and Jabber’s Too Many Babes album.
So I think I got my wish and until he’s old enough to force me to play Lady Gaga on all car trips, I’m pretty happy about it.
This got me thinking about what he stands to gain from loving music. In his early babyhood it created a bond between us and helped to soothe him when he was upset. When I think of it that way, it’s easy to apply those two ideas to the enjoyment of music at any age. Now that he’s a bit older, songs are not only allowing him to connect with me, but with others. He goes to daycare and other kid-centric gatherings and he recognizes the songs that he’s been sung. He connects to his peers because they all know to clap their hands when they’re happy-and-they-know-it. He uses what he’s learned from the songs to communicate with us, too. He claps to show us he is happy and we clap back.
He needs less random soothing now that he is easier to communicate with, but I still see the effects that music has on his emotional states. He dances excitedly when up-tempo music plays, he dozes calmly in my lap at night when I sing him lullabies. They’re actually Billy Bragg songs, but they sound like lullabies—which is what matters to him.
I hope he’ll still lean on music for connection and comfort as he gets older and encounters the confusing, painful, and amazing realities of his life. I guess that’s what I was really wishing for, all those months ago when I thought of who he might be.


The Punk Parenthood Questionnaire

Learning to parent is like learning to do anything else important. It can be ridiculously overwhelming one day and full of surprising triumphs the next. But no one “masters” parenting. Kids change daily, anxiety reigns, and some days the only good thing that happens is that nobody dies. Hearing other parents talk about their own experiences was the thing that helped me the most when I floundered through my first year as a parent.

I wanted other punk parents to be a part of this column because there is a shared wisdom we can cultivate by discussing our experiences with each other. The same way the punk and DIY communities work best when people share instead of competing for glory, parenthood can rule when we know there are other people on our side, reacting to the same stresses and glories on a daily basis.

Every column will include answers to these five questions from different parents. This time I asked  Frédérique Chabot and Mike Godbout. The two live with their daughter, Léo Béatrix Godbout, in Ottawa, Ontario. Fred works for the AIDS Committee of Ottawa and is active in the fight for the rights of sex workers in Canada. She is also involved with the Mother and Child Coalition for Justice, which advocates for prison justice in Canada.Mike works in a sleep research lab at a local hospital and played the drums in the much loved Ottawa punk band, Buried Inside. Fred answered the questions and Mike shouted his input from the next room.

Jennifer: How does your background in the punk/underground scene affect your parenting?

Fred: Our values and politics—shaped by our respective connections to the punk/hardcore, activist, and LGBTQ communities—are a huge part of who we are as people, so they certainly have been and will continue to be influential to our parenting. On the daily, we exist in a bubble mostly populated by pretty alternative people and we are both excited for our daughter to grow up around such diverse, amazing, and inspiring people and families.
At the heart of how it shapes our parenting is our commitment to question and/or push back against some of what gets passed down to our kids in terms of culture, of expectations, of values, of power dynamics, of gender roles, of everything that reinforces structures of privilege and oppression. That’s a tall order, but it is a big part of why I have found parenthood to be so invigorating.
On a practical level, we are both quite critical of the Baby Industrial Complex, fighting this always excessive, often fear and anxiety-based consumerism with a good dose of DIY, thrifting, and taking advantage of the baby black market where parents exchange goods they don’t need anymore. Mike is a driving force for this and is an inspiration to me in his relentless dedication to us being as environmentally conscious as we can in any given scenario.
In the same vein, we also aim to parent with a strong commitment to the common good as opposed to parenting along the very individualistic lines of “anything for my precious spawn.” Of course I want the very best for my child, but I don’t believe that trampling other people’s wellbeing to achieve what I imagine that “very best” to be is serving anyone in the long run.
I was once hanging out at a drop-in center in our neighborhood and was watching our daughter from afar as she played at the train table. Another parent came in with their kid who made a beeline for the trains too. He soon started to covet the toy my daughter was holding so his mom proceeded to snatch it from her and hand it over to her son. I laughed because of how unexpected this was, but also felt quite sad that this little boy is growing up seeing his parents act this way and learning from it. I believe kids to be resilient and learn from multiple sources, but parents are obviously powerful role models. This is a small-scale example—or anti-example?—that points to a guiding principle of our parenting that can also apply in the teaching of wider social and environmental justice issues in terms of how we live our lives and how we relate to other people and communities.

Jennifer: What quality of yours do you most hope to pass on to your kid?

Fred: My hope is for our daughter to grow up to be a kind, compassionate, and mindful person. I hope that, in her own way, she will be an agent of change towards a more just world. With that in mind, as her parent, I strive to be the very best version of myself around her and to talk about it with her when I’m not. I also hope that she will see me as one—of many—example of a strong, awesome, and active woman. I don’t know that it involves too many specifics in terms of exact qualities I’d like to pass down. That said, I’ll certainly encourage her to develop her emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and communication skills as that’s all pretty key for good, solid relationships.

Jennifer: Have you found solidarity within the punk community when it comes to parenting?  Do you have different experiences in different groups of friends?

Fred: We are both lucky that we have great friends, with or sans babies, and they all continued to be awesome after we popped a baby. On a side note though, one of the amazing surprises that came from becoming parents has been the wonderful friendships we have formed or strengthened with a network of other like-minded parents. There is something to be said about how fun and intimate it can be to parent alongside friends. In the last year, I’ve had some pretty blissful and hilarious moments, sitting on someone’s floor sipping on coffee or tumbling down the jungle gym slide, whatever, hanging out with friends as we all take care of a pack of feral toddlers.
We were lucky and/or had incredible timing as a lot of people around us spawned around when we did, but we also made sure to put time and energy into these relationships. It was more than worth it. In the last two years, friends have liberally provided us with support, care and hilarity; with food, baby clothes, and toys; with encouragement and with wisdom, helping us figure shit out. We made sure to give back too, which is also a great pleasure. Beyond being grateful for all of that, I am now doubly committed to continuing to put efforts into having a solid community around us.

Jennifer: What music are you most excited that your kid is into?

Fred: She dances to Beyoncé and has been listening to metal since she was born. I am excited for when she’ll realize her dad wrote and played music and gets how awesome that is.
I’m pretty sure she’ll be more embarrassed than anything by her dad’s past life in a punk band, so I’m mostly just hoping to expose to her all sorts of different music, shows, and to give her access to instruments and more talented musicians than myself. That said, if she wants help sewing a Uranus back patch on her jean jacket, I won’t be too disappointed.

Jennifer: Who should I interview next? Any punk parents you admire or appreciate?

Fred: I think you should interview Dave Williams and Jess Gilmore next. Dave writes for Razorcake, is in Crusades and other local punk bands. He and Jess, who have a daughter about a year older than Léo, have been really supportive as friends and fellow parents.  They are always available to talk through challenging parenting moments, share their experiences, and swap hilarious kid stories.