My Twitter feed has been blowing up with news of the release of the new Rain for Roots children’s CD. It features the writing of Sally Lloyd-Jones and the music of Sandra McCracken (among others), so obviously I bought it, and obviously it is great.
But some of the publicity for this album has centered around a theme that I am more reluctant to embrace: the idea that “coolness” is an essential element when it comes to music for children, or to put it another way, that the best kids music is appealing to the parents, too.
Now, I’ll go with this to a certain extent. We do have some music for Abby that I like enough to listen to even when she’s out of the room, and of course these are the CDs that I try to push on her most often. Part of this is my own selfishness, which prefers something like Rain for Roots to Barney’s Best Hits. Part of it is a noble conviction that I am helping to elevate her preferences and train her ear to appreciate finer, more sophisticated musical stylings. It’s the same reasoning that motivates me to pass over the library books that I think are stupid in favor of ones of higher quality. In my mind, this is the same as making your child eat vegetables instead of gummi bears for dinner.
The turn-of-the-century educator Charlotte Mason warned parents against feeding their children “twaddle,” which was her term for dumbed-down children’s material. “They’re children, they’re not stupid,” she argued (my paraphrase), “and if you feed their minds with inane images and ideas, they’ll enjoy them and be satisfied. But why would you do that, if you can expose them to things that are truly good and beautiful, and train them to love those instead?”
But while I appreciate the impulse to liberate children from their baser instincts, I draw the line at what I sense is a snobby parental desire to make sure their kids are “cool” from a young age. I get this from the parent who boasts when her six-year-old creates a Tom Petty Pandora station. Or the one who shrugs with a smile and says, “My daughter has listened to Veggie Tales at her friends’ houses, but when she gets home she tells me she really prefers my old Indigo Girls albums.” And let’s be honest: as cute as it is when your three-year-old sings along with the latest top-40 hits you listen to on the radio, isn’t it also just a little creepy?
Here’s the bottom line: excellent is always better than mediocre. But I don’t even hold myself to that kind of standard all of the time. Sometimes I turn off the edifying hymns and dance around to the Glee soundtrack; I re-read Twilight instead of trying that John Piper or Jane Austen book on the shelf.
So Abby listens to plenty of music that’s good for her, and she enjoys plenty of “cool” music (or at least as close to it as we get in our house). But sometimes a two-year-old just wants to give her mind a break with a little “B-I-N-G-O” or “Hey, Mr. Knickerbocker,” and I’m okay with that. Even when they’re sung by a six-foot purple dinosaur and not an indie artist with thick-framed glasses.
(I just want to laugh when my friends say “We don’t do Barney; I can’t stand him,” as if ANY mom listens to him for her own enjoyment!)