This Post Goes Up to Eleven

We’ve all heard about the typical oldest child: pushed by over-involved parents to plan, please and overachieve. My oldest is very bright, mature and accomplished, with a sharp sense of humor, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t describe himself according to the first child stereotype. However, I recently read that “a firstborn child can be either strong willed and independent or a compliant people-pleaser.” So see, they don’t all have to be Alex P. Keaton.

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My first born is a talented musician who was born with many innate abilities and spends hours a day playing and composing music. He focuses most of his energy on percussion but he also plays guitar, bass and piano. He’s the lead singer in a band and he only requires a bit of arm-twisting to sing in our church choir. He played in BYU’s Balinese percussion group, Gamelan Bintang Wahyu and got a chance to play percussion with the Utah Symphony last spring.

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Every time I watch him play with his high school drum line, I start crying.  I think it’s because when I watch him play I realize he’s doing something I would never in a million years be able to do.

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When he was younger, I loved introducing him to the music I loved. I was so proud when my kids knew all the words to every song when we saw They Might Be Giants in concert.

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As he got older, he developed his own varied taste in music. He plays in his school’s jazz band so he spends a lot of time listening to jazz. He’s in the marching band so he spends a lot of time watching and listening to drum corps music. The one genre of music he listens to that I really can’t stand or understand, though, is metal. He talks about it all the time, plays it in his band and listens to it while he does the dishes. Sometimes I wonder if he really only listens to it because I hate it so much. Other times I wonder if I would hate it less if I listened to it for longer than 10 seconds. So that’s what I did this week and I lived to tell the tale.

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Last week I said, “It’s time for Metal Week. Are you ready?” and he said, “Are you ready?” He made me my own Spotify playlist (29 songs long) and called it “metal4mom”. I vowed to get through the entire list and not skip through any of the songs. I also set up a metal playlist on my Pandora station so I could listen to it on my phone while I exercise. I was ready.

My first extended listening period was while I was on the elliptical machine at the gym for 40 minutes. I didn’t really mind the music there. In fact, the aggressive music sort of helped me work out a little harder than I usually do – 100 calories harder. I started to think maybe there was something to this.

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But then I started listening to the playlist he made me. I usually listen to music while I cook or clean, so this time I tried cooking to metal4mom. The music I often listen to allows me to clean and listen and think all at the same time, but once the metal came on, there was no room for thinking. I kept going to the cupboard or fridge and stopping because I couldn’t remember why I went there. None of my thoughts could focus and I felt like I was going to have a seizure any minute.

Most of the lyrics I couldn’t even understand but when I got to Madhouse by Anthrax I felt an immediate connection to what the singer was screaming: “World of confusion, air filled with noise…Trapped, in this nightmare I wish I’d wake…I can’t find my way out of this maze.” I heard that and I could totally relate. That’s exactly how I felt when I tried to listen to this music.

I can understand why teenage boys get into this stuff – it’s very virtuosic and fast and loud, but it’s that same frenetic activity that freaks my brain out and makes me crazy. He had me listening to Animals as Leaders, Nile, and Slayer and I really didn’t like any of it and was this close to googling the symptoms of a stroke. I also hated the growl, whether it was Cookie Monster style (Revocation, Nile) or the stuff of nightmares (Meshuggah). Ever since I can remember, whenever I have a fever I have dreams where everyone is shouting. This music reminded me of those nightmares.

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I was getting worried that I would hurt my son’s feelings if all I could say about his music was that I hated it SO MUCH. But I stuck with the playlist and eventually got to the long list of songs by his favorite band, Mastodon. He talks about Mastodon all the time and his wears weird creepy Mastodon t-shirt all the time, so I was curious to see what they sounded like.

After all that Nile, Anthrax and Slayer, I found myself thinking, “This isn’t so bad.” Then I found myself wondering if he did that on purpose. I started to suspect that he stuck all the stuff he knew I would hate at the beginning of the list just to mess with me. So I asked him about it and it turns out I was right.

I was a little bit relieved to know that the most horrible songs on my playlist were not actually his favorite songs. And it was also reassuring to realize that even though my son and I have very different personalities and interests, at least I knew him well enough to catch on to his scheme. Because if there’s one thing I know about my son, it this: If I love it, he hates it. If I hate it, he’s drawn to it. While we were driving somewhere this week, my hand went up automatically to change the station when a song I didn’t like came on the radio. He reminded me that I wasn’t allowed to do that because it was Metal Week, so we left it there–until he changed it himself and said, “I don’t actually like that song but I left it on because I knew you didn’t want to hear it.” Typical.

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