Each night, my family has dinner together. It's me, Wife, Boy A, Boy B, Boy C, and we sit at a thrift store dinner table on thrift store chairs and eat a king's dinner. (After having been a stay-at-home mother for nearly six years, Wife is a remarkable cook).
Part of the reason this happens is because we enjoy spending time together, but mostly it's because I don't want my sons to go to prison, which is apparently what happens if you don't eat with your children. (I don't know how true that is, and I actually remember reading a story on the Child Mind Institute's site several months ago about how it might not even really have as big of an influence as everyone had previously assumed, but whatever. The boys have already accidentally taken candy from two separate stores, so they need all the non-prison-y nudges they can get.)
While we eat, Wife and I listen to Boy A and Boy B talk. They generally gab on about Skylanders or how they've realized the Toy Story franchise is completely lame (a positively ridiculous assertion) and about what horrible thing the dastardly K. (their nemesis) did at school that day. His most recent transgression was waving his hands in another kid's face, which apparently is how five-year-olds say “fuck you.” While all of this is happening, we play music.
I'd like to say that we have some sort of democratic system set up, that each night a different person gets to pick the music because we are a forward thinking family, but shit on that. The boys, they're gems, but they know jack about music. If it were up to them, that little gummy gummy gummy bear would have 900 Grammys already. Our house, it's a dictatorship, a madman middle class monarchy. And since I'm the strongest (9 pushups, no stopsies, yo), I've assumed the throne. I am the authoritarian totalitarian, and my rule is oppressive.
If you have to be told more than twice to eat your food, you don't eat for a year. If you splash too much water out of the tub during your bath, the next time you bathe you're only given a thimble of water. If the last word out of your mouth isn't “sir” or “ma'am,” your mouth is taken off and shipped to a poor kid in Africa who'll be more appreciative.
Daddy shadowboxes with God and uses the moon to play basketball; OF COURSE the dinnertime music falls under his purview.
Generally the music is entirely dependent on the mood of the house. If the aura is particularly artsy or creative, some form of jazz is played (I am particularly fond of Herbie Hancock's 1973 album Head Hunters, which I first listened to by accident while I was home alone looking for “Rockit” on YouTube so I could breakdance in the living room because I was supposed to be cleaning the garage and we all know windmills are WAY more fun than sweeping).
If we're all feeling particularly punch-y (perhaps the boys and I were engaged in a karate battle when we were told that dinner was ready), Stevie Ray Vaughan's Couldn't Stand The Weather, an album my dad plays regularly, is ideal. To wit: The first track, the THUNDERFURY “Scuttle Buttin',” is uncommonly frothy and brilliantly energetic, so the transition from trying to roundhouse kick someone in the head to eating snow peas is natural.
It's followed by “Couldn't Stand The Weather,” which is slightly less exciting but no less emotive, so our heart rates slip into normalcy. That song's followed by the slow-all-the-way-down two song set “The Things I Used To Do” and “Voodoo Chile,” absolutely perfect as ambient dinnertime background noise. They remain among the few ways to get the boys to calm all the way down without shouting, “HEY, FUCKERS, CALM ALL THE WAY DOWN.” By the time “Voodoo Chile” unfurls itself completely (it tops eight minutes), we've usually just about finished our foodstuffs. When the rambunctious “Cold Shot” sprints on afterwards, our bones are resupplied with the requisite pre-fight lava necessary to adequately battle to the death. BLAM-O. Dinner's over. God praise Stevie.
If I've just had a bad day and am feeling particularly dickish, I'll put on something I know NOBODY wants to hear (very rough rap, typically), then sit there like my body is made of stone and wait for one of the boys to do something wrong so I can completely overreact.
There's a collection of chopped and screwed R&B music that I dip into if the air is right (it is remarkably soothing), and there's even a folk album that the boys have grown especially fond of (Andrew Karnavas, Film Noir, 2010).
(Quick note: Andrew Karnavas also sings children's songs. We took the boys to go watch him perform once. In between sets, I took them up to the stage to meet him. I said, “Knuckleheads, this is the guy that plays the 'Film Noir' song you all like so much.” They said, “…Really?” Karnavas smiled, then played the opening riff from the song. Their eyes went big as softballs. Their tiny brains couldn't calculate what was happening. They were so happy. I was like, “Yeah, I was built to be a dad.” On the way home, Boy B spilled grape juice all over the car seats and I was like, “OH MY GOD I'M GOING TO KILL ALL OF YOU MOTHERFUCKERS.” So it is what it is.)
The other night, we tried something new: D'Angelo's Pandora station, because (1) Wife has eyeballs and ears and an active uterus so 1999-2000 D'Angelo is basically, like, the most perfect man of all (I cannot deny his beauty either); but also because (2) his transcendent album, Voodoo, just received its first vinyl reissue last week and that's aces.
It started out surprisingly weak. The first song was D'Angelo's questionable remake of “Your Precious Love,” but it tightened up quickly, gliding from Donell Jones's “Where I Wanna Be” to The Isley Brothers' “Don't Say Goodnight” to Teena Marie's “Square Biz.” The boys found this one especially enjoyable -“Is she saying 'square bib'? …DADDY, IS SHE SINGING TO SPONGEBOB?!”
The last two songs we heard before dinner was over were Angie Stone's very excellent “Why I Didn't Miss You” and Prince's curious “I Can't Make U Love Me.” Curious because, the way I understand it, that's EXACTLY what he's been making women do since 1978.
I also remember reading a story about how listening to music won't specifically make your kids smarter (the article had to do with that whole Mozart Effect thing), and maybe that's true too.
But I don't imagine it can hurt either.
I don't know. I just don't want prison kids, is all.