Singing the parenting blues

The dramas of the ancient Greeks often featured a chorus that stood off to one side, commenting on the actions of the lead players, bemoaning mistakes and foretelling disasters.

This chorus parallels the modern lifestyle known as “parenting.”

We parents watch from the sidelines as our children make boneheaded decisions and rush headlong into dangerous situations, and all we can do is sing out warnings. The children are the stars of the show, and they’ll make their own mistakes, no matter how loudly we parents sing the blues.

Many of these songs are standards, the same ones our parents sang to us: “Go to Sleep, Little Baby” and “Don’t Put That in Your Mouth” and “What Do You Mean (You’ve Lost Your Shoes)?”

Others are situation-specific: “No Monsters Under the Bed” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand (When We Cross the Street)” and “O, Brother, Where Art Thou Sister’s Barbies?”

Then there are the novelty tunes, the unintentionally comic songs blurted in the heat of the moment: “Don’t Pet That End of the Dog” or “Three Coins Up Your Nostril” and “That’s Not a Helmet, That’s a Bra.”

Some parental laments make no sense. I’ll never forget, when I was about 12, as I worked up my courage to swing on a rope into the local swimming hole, my mother sang out: “If You Swing Off There and Kill Yourself, Don’t Come Crying to Me.”

We parents change our tunes as the children grow older. When they’re babies, we coo lullabyes and delight in their grossest activities and sing their praises for having a full set of toes. Our hit parade consists of “My Baby’s Cuter than Yours” and “Cry Me a River“ and “Spit-up Rag” and “Ooh, That Smell.”

When they reach the toddler stage and go mobile, the warnings begin in earnest: “Don’t Go Out of the Backyard, Dear, With Anyone Else But Me” and “Put That Down, It’s Nasty” and “Electric Shocks Are No Fun” and “(On Everything) Germs, Germs, Germs.”

Then it’s off to kindergarten, and we parents moan all the louder because the children are out of sight, and we hope our many admonitions echo inside their darling heads. Many songs of this era come in the form of questions or pleas: “Did You Go?” and “One More Bite?” and “Oh, Dirty Boy (the Bath, the Bath is Calling)” and that old favorite, “Hurry Up, We’re Late, It Doesn’t Matter If You Have Your Superman Underwear.”

The school years reinforce the notion that we parents have less control over our offspring all the time. “If Johnny Jumped Off a Cliff,” we sing, and “Don’t Bite the Teacher” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Arm?” and “A Lost Lunchbox and a Pink Consternation.”

The parental chorus grows frantic in the teen years, as we try to squeeze last-minute warnings into unheeding ears: “This Ain’t No Party” and “You Call that Music?” and “Get a Job” and “One Tattoo’s Too Many For Me.”

Finally, the kids leave the nest (“Bye-bye, Birdie”) and strike off on their own (“Save Your Knowledge for College” or “You’re in the Army Now”), and we parents can finally stop singing and sit in the wings, quietly worrying instead.

One day, our children will have kids of their own, and they’ll start singing the parenting blues themselves.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to say, “Don’t come crying to me.”

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