Grumpy about Alanis Morissette and motherhood

Yesterday I heard “You Oughta Know” on the radio for the first time in ages, while I was driving Nick to school. I’m not a huge Alanis fan but I did like the song and its album, Jagged Little Pill, when it came out. I liked her upbeat girl rage. So I started singing with the chorus. As I head-bobbed and bellowed along, I saw Nick’s furrowed brow in the rear view mirror, and I suddenly realized I wasn’t singing a break up song. I was singing a mommy anthem.

Well I’m here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away!
It’s not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you’ve given me

No wonder Nick was looking worried. He’s heard me say stuff like this before; how strange to hear it coming out of the radio! And really, other than a few word tweaks to take the creepy Oedipal/Electra edges off, the whole song — with its vaguely insane rage and sense of betrayal — works well for a mommy dealing with the pig sty living room her kids create every day. I could even play the song’s alternative meaning out into future years, when the kids move on to their own mates and I get to stick my nose into that business.

Turn out the lights, point a flashlight up under my chin, and hear me whisper these words: I’ve been sucked into a horrible vortex, where even songs about nasty sex and messy breakups are reduced to parenting metaphors. Somebody help me.

Enjoy this mommy sing-along song, on me.

grumpy about my dance moves

No one should ever have to see me dance, because it’s not a pretty sight. I’m just not good. I’ve observed that Anthony has two strategies for coping with my dancing: (1) look away, or (2) leave the room. But I do love busting a move to good tunes, and Jesse’s got great natural moves. She knows how to shake her ba-donk-a-donk as wildly and blithely as any go-go dancer, so I go at it with her at home. In private. For me, dancing is like pooping or nose-picking. I do those things, and I’m okay with everyone knowing it, but I feel quite strongly that only my immediate family should ever have to witness them.

My lovely friend Paula invited me over to her house this afternoon for lunch and a Wii dance-off, after we dropped our youngest kids off at preschool.  I accepted with mild reservations, because I’m concerned about whether Paula will ever be able to look at me squarely again after seeing me impersonate Beyonce. I ended up having a lot of fun anyway, and the dancing went okay. I tried to do the moves that Wii ordered me to do. On a few occasions, I couldn’t make sense of some complicated pattern, so I just wiggled and flailed for a bit to loosen up my joints and, you know, go with what the music was telling my dancing feet to do. My feeling is that this disturbed and vaguely embarrassed Paula, but she was too polite to say anything, and also I might be projecting.

I wish I knew why I’m such a bad dancer. I took ballet classes as a little girl, and traditional Korean dance. I was able to flip my little Korean fans open and shut on cue, and spin around in pretty circles so my traditional dress flared out just so. I was able to pitter patter about on my little toes. But it all got lost as my ass adhered itself to a piano bench.

It’s amazing to me that, at my age, I’m still so profoundly embarrassed by something as simple as dancing to express my personal enjoyment over a piece of music. I’ve endured some pretty embarrassing moments, mostly involving the years when I was training to be a musician. The most embarrassing occasion of my entire life happened at a summer music camp, when I was in high school. I was supposed to play a solo with the jazz band, for which I was the pianist. But I had never played jazz; I played classical. I didn’t know how to construct or perform a jazz solo. I was utterly clueless. I went home and tried to work something out, and the next day at rehearsal I gave it a go. I was SO BAD that when I was done the entire band had stopped playing and was just staring at me. They looked confused, and shocked. No one even made fun of me or gave me a “good try” chuck on the shoulder. They just felt terrible for me because I was SO BAD. The conductor was a man I had a good rapport with – he also conducted the youth orchestra I played with, so he knew I wasn’t a complete musical boob. He felt so awkward that he never said a word to me about it. He just took away the solo.  It would have been better if my bandmates had made fun of me to my face. Then I could have walked away at least feeling like my horrifyingly awful performance provided some comic relief. (Come to think of it, maybe it did, behind my back.)

I don’t like to talk about that painful experience at all. It was more than 30 years ago, but as I type I’m getting sort of sweaty remembering it. Whenever I think about that day, my head still ducks in shame, the skin on the back of my neck crawls, and I want to cry. It was so humiliating.

I think I would feel the same way about dancing, if anyone ever caught me busting a move in my house. But maybe I shouldn’t. Most children have a knack for dancing freely and without shame, and you can see their individual spirits expressed through their bodies. I would love to feel that way. Plus my kids are really entertained by my ridiculousness, and maybe that’s why I’ve taken to dancing more again. They make requests. “Dance like an Indian!” I stomp my feet and move around like a fancy dancer and sing “hey-yaaah he-eey yaaah” chants. “Dance like a Russian!” I try to do that squat-kick thing, while singing whatever comes to mind that seems Russian-ish (lately it’s been things from Fiddler on the Roof, for some reason). I know I suck, but it’s fun to make the kids laugh.

And did you know that dancing is really, really good for you? I will apparently be less demented when I’m old, if I dance. About a decade ago, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study of “leisure activities” and dementia. The authors concluded that “[d]ancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia.” Whaaaat?? Start dancing, my middle-aged friends, NOW!

I hope Nick and Jesse grow up less dance-repressed than me. I hope they continue to dance freely and joyfully, no matter who’s watching, expressing their own feelings and reactions to whatever inspires their bodies to move. I hope they find someone to show them moves besides me, soon, because otherwise they’ll be in big trouble on the dance floor.