“I’m teaching ‘Gigolo’ to the class today.”
This is my second grade daughter, Hadley, talking. She’s finishing breakfast and I’m at the sink wondering if there’s time to unload the dishwasher and reload it before it’s time for Hadley and her sister Harper to brush their teeth and finish getting ready for school.
I can’t just say: “Brush your teeth and get ready for school,” because they’ll run upstairs and never come back down. Lots of things can happen that distract my children on their way to brush their teeth: there could be a crack on the banister that looks like a spider and, “Eek! Mama! There’s a spider! Nevermind it’s a crack. Hahahaha! I thought it was a spider. Phew! I’m glad it’s not and Hadley? Hadley? Hadley! Do you want to play Charlotte’s Web with our My Little Ponies and Strawberry Shortcakes?”
The next thing I know it’s five minutes before we leave for school and my girls are in their underwear debating whether or not Sparkle Dream can replace Wilbur since they don’t have a toy pig for the barn.
But this morning Hadley tells me she’s going to teach a song and dance – there’s choreography – with a title that I’m pretty sure means, “male prostitute.” There is no time to load or reload the dishwasher! I have to figure out how to put a stop to this without a) squashing Hadley’s enthusiasm and b) teaching her what prostitution means. And if I can’t do that, then at least I need to email Hadley’s teacher apologizing for what might happen in her classroom today.
I admit I’m pretty liberal when it comes to the music my girls listen to. If it’s playing on the drive to school, we blast, “I’m all about that bass, ‘bout that bass, no treble,” and giggle while screaming, “I’m bringing booty baaaack!” But I did NOT teach Hadley “Gigolo.” No, no, this was a song and dance taught to my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop. Yet another reason why people who love nature should never be trusted.
This is how the song goes:
Are you ready?
Well….(and everyone joins in on this part)
Our hands up high, our feet down low, and this is how you gigolo.
Gig-a-lo! Gig, gig, a-lo!
It’s pretty benign, save for the male prostitution part. Still, I need to let Hadley’s teacher know, if anything, to make her understand that I didn’t teach her this. Butt and toot jokes? Of course that was me. (And aren’t they funny?) Hadley’s use of “like” and “not?” “Can we, like, NOT have circle time today?” Me again. But this? So NOT me.
But like my girls, I get distracted on the way to the computer. There’s laundry to fold. I have to go to the bathroom. When I’m in the bathroom I notice a chin hair that I could tie a ribbon around.
So I forget about the email I’m about to send until I’m brushing Hadley’s hair. Today, she wants two braids, my favorite hairstyle on her because I can see so well the baby I used to hold on my hip, the one I fed oatmeal to, the one I pushed in the stroller exploring our new world.
As I separate her hair into two chunks to braid, Hadley sings the chorus to “Gigolo,” and does the corresponding move. I jerk back, ready to say, “You can’t sing that song,” but her execution of the move, I observe, is flawless. Her knees swivel so that her hips can swirl. Her arms mimic the wave of her lower body, except they go in the opposite direction. She does the move quickly, but at the same time, as though she has all the time in the world.
When I was in second grade, Michael Jackson’s album Thriller was released. All my friends, including me, had the album. We also had the book, and the purse; a fake leather number with his face stuck on the front. We even had the videotape of the making of Thriller. I owned it on Betamax.
On our way to school my friends and I would jump on sidewalk squares pretending (and hoping) they’d light up like they did in the video when Michael did it. We jumped to our toes, our arms in the air, knees slightly bent and our heads bowed. We tried to hold the pose as long as he did it.
We decided we would make up a routine, and put on a show for our fellow second graders. We convinced our music teacher, Miss Rexford, to let us do this. I remember we decided we must all wear green on top and blue on the bottom. Because when you think of Michael Jackson, don’t you think: green and blue?
And so it went that we were in the music room, surrounded by the entire second grade class and their teachers. The music started and I remember sort of marching in place or maybe we jumped a couple steps forward and jumped back. There were maybe four of us in a square formation with a person in the center who I think was supposed to be doing a backspin. She was sitting on the floor with her knees bent so her feet were slightly in the air and she could spin around and around. I’m sure that child was me, though I must have blocked it out, and I’m also sure that all jokes about the way white people dance started on that day.
As we danced – if you could call it that – I remember thinking, “Everyone is waiting for something to happen, and this is all there is. This is all we have.” My mom was there. All our moms were. She’d brought my younger brother Geoff, who was in Kindergarten at the time. Back then, Kindergarten was only a half-day, and lucky for him he got to witness this.
I wonder now, did the moms worry about our little endeavor? Were they concerned we didn’t quite have what it takes to pull off a routine the way Michael Jackson could? Did they worry we would be embarrassed once that glorious synchronized beat dropped and everybody was waiting for something magnificent to happen? Did they worry we shouldn’t be dancing to such a scandalous song?
If any of those moms worried – all whose homes I knew like the back of my hand by the time I was eight –about what we were pursuing, none of them said a word about it.
When we gathered around Sarah’s kitchen table drinking mugs of lemonade, Mrs. Smith never said, “I think you girls should consider dancing to ‘Miss Mary Mack’ instead,” as she placed brownies fresh from the over on the table.
When we practiced the routine in front of Mandy’s house while the Chicago “el” rushed by (we’d have to stop singing the song because the train’s rickety whoosh was so loud as it rushed into the city), Mrs. Ross didn’t stick her head out the window and say, “Girls, you’re gonna have to do more than just march! This routine is BORING!”
And when we so palpably failed that afternoon in Miss Rexford’s classroom, I don’t remember one of those moms laughing (or crying). What I remember is this: walking home with my friends after school. Standing on the corner of Jackson and Gunderson where some of us continued our journeys South, and others East, their backs to the Sears Tower as they walked home (I always felt sorry for them because of their positioning to the world’s tallest building.) I remember lamenting with my friends for a moment that the purple Morning Glories on the corner fence were always wide open in the morning when we met, but closed by the time school was over.
I remember walking the last block by myself, and it was towards the middle of the 800 block of Gunderson that I could hear Bach’s Mass in B Minor blasting from the last house on the street. My house. And it was on the front steps that I could smell my mom’s French bread, yeasty and fresh from the oven. My mom would slather a pat of butter and jam on it and Geoff and I dangled our feet at the dining room table; chewing the bread and swinging our feet in time to Bach.
Four years later, in 6th grade, my friends and I would be at it again. This time, we convinced our music teacher, a southern gentleman named Mr. Elwanger, to let us do hand motions to a song he was teaching us about the sinking of the Titanic. The song had a peppy beat and begged for jazz hands.
And he let us perform at a spring show in Longfellow Elementary’s school auditorium. And we were good. At least, I think we were. But now that I think of it, maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe what matters is that none of us were too afraid to try for fear we would fail again.
I suppose our moms could’ve put a stop to our endeavors in order to prevent embarrassment and the awkward and sometimes devastating feeling of failure. But they didn’t. They gave us the confidence to know that we would be OK if we did fail. And now, we are writers, editors, teachers, principals, and lawyers. We live in Singapore, New York City, Colorado, Chicago, and Washington DC. Some of us are mothers. I believe all of us are still trying and still failing. All thanks to our moms.
Hadley’s braids are the best two braids I’ve ever made. I hope they’ll stay through school because she looks so cute. They probably won’t, though. Hadley tells me she has a soccer match at recess with her buddy Nathan. It’s “Game Day” in math and something to do with marshmallows and toothpicks is involved.
Plus, Hadley has to teach “Gigolo” to her classmates.