It sounds arrogant to say this, but when it comes to raising my daughters, I’ve always considered myself the alpha parent. I am a woman, after all, which definitely gives me the advantage in the situation, right? I know what it’s like to have grown up as a girl, an advantage that my husband certainly doesn’t enjoy. I am also the parent who remembers to pack extra snacks, who has a spare pair of undies and socks in the glove compartment of the car, who never, ever, forgets to carry Band-Aids in her purse. I am the responsible parent. He is the fun parent. The responsible parent is always the alpha dog, hands down.
Except when she isn’t. Because times are a-changin’ in my family, and changing fast. The cause of this seismic shift? Puberty. Years ago, when my older daughter’s puberty was just a microscopic speck on the horizon, I thought I’d handle it brilliantly. I’d be empathetic, I’d be wise, I’d be attuned to her every emotional need. I would be brilliant, you see, because my daughter would talk to me.
Yeah, I don’t know what I was smoking, either.
Talk to me? Ha! You know what happened the minute my child turned 13? She slapped a pair of headphones over her ears and hasn’t heard a word I’ve said since. The headphones, the ear buds, the iPod, the iTunes, the iPhone: They are constant presences in her life. She has, for all intents and purposes, been iHijacked.
“What’s up with that?” I griped to my husband. “What’s this constant need for aural stimulation? Doesn’t she get sick of constant noise in her head?”
My husband shrugged. “She’s 13. Music becomes really important to you around that age. I always had my radio or my Walkman on when I was a teenager.” He grinned wickedly and drawled, “Unless I was busy making a mixtape.”
“Gah! Shut up! Mixtape. I feel so old.”
“It will be fine,” he said. “She’s just really into music, like me.”
He’s got a point there. He became interested in music as a teenager, got obsessive about it in college, and has fostered that passion throughout his life. I’m not like that. I like music, and I do remember listening to music a lot as a teenager (maybe because it drowned out the hormonal roaring and continuous clacking of my own insecurities?), but once I hit my 20s, my interest waned. I didn’t need it like I needed it then.
Now, in my *cough* 40s, I’ll listen to music in the car, and I’ll listen to the CDs my husband lovingly burns for me (yes, he never lost his love for the mixtape; it’s his expression of undying love), but I don’t actively seek it. My husband will spend hours on iTunes, seeking out new bands, fresh sounds, eager to keep his finger on the changing pulse of music. I’d rather pop a blister than spend my time that way.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how my husband kicked my parenting ass.
The moment my daughter strapped on those headphones, I lost. I lost because my constant response to those headphones on her skull was, “Hey, take those things off and talk to me! I need to speak with you. Take them off!”
My husband took a different tactic. He encouraged her to keep them on, because that way, he could speak to her.
While I was sputtering and stewing, my husband was listening. Listening a lot. And then, while my daughter was sleeping, he was downloading. He sneaked her phone off her nightstand and began talking to her in a way I couldn’t. Song after song, playlist after playlist, old relics and new hits.
He started small, just a few little tidbits that he thought she’d find interesting. She’d come down for breakfast, and as he hustled out the door for work, he’d say over his shoulder, “Hey, check your phone. I put a couple of songs on there. I think you’ll like some of them, but a few of them are kinda different. Let me know what you think.”
The first time he did it, I thought he was done for. I thought my firstborn would roll her terrible eyes and gnash her terrible teeth because—Hello!—do not mess with her iPhone! But I was wrong. Well, she did roll her eyes a little, but a small smile was already working its way onto her face. And she listened. She knew somehow that he was talking to her, in the language she knew best: lyric, chorus, refrain.
And it’s my husband she usually seeks out, even when it comes to speaking in the other language. She finds him the easier, more approachable parent. Perhaps because they’ve had so many conversations without either of them needing to say a word.
I should feel wildly jealous and want to kick my husband for being such a sneaky, weasel-smart, underhanded bastard. For years, I have had the upper hand and that Judas stole my daughter right out from under my nose. I was the alpha! The alpha, dammit!
Truthfully, I am a little jealous. I am. But I also know that their connection through music is something I can’t compete with. It’s their thing. I have to be good with that. It’s a reminder that, yes, when my daughter was little, I thought she was mine, but of course, she never was mine to keep. And of course, she’s not my husband’s either. She’s a creature of this earth, big road ahead, lots of rockin’ to do. With headphones on.