When we first went into lockdown, a year ago the whole family struggled, but it was especially hard on my 18-year-old. On top of navigating a sea of loss in her final year of high school, she was desperately trying to become her own person ― as you’re biologically programmed to do at that age. But it’s hard to answer questions like “Who am I?” when you’re stuck in the house 24/7 with your mother.
As much as she wanted her space, I was kind of all she had. She wanted me around, but on her terms. And while I was happy to be her workout partner and provide a sympathetic ear, I had zero interest in becoming my teenager’s drinking buddy.
My daughter’s moods vacillated between tense, on edge and teary. Inevitably, there was conflict, followed by long hours when she’d retreat to her room. I worried about her when she was in there and wondered if there was something I could or should be doing to fix things. But then around dinnertime, something magical would happen: The kid who only an hour ago had refused to meet my gaze, would sashay into the kitchen, plunk down her portable speaker, and start blasting music and dancing.
I’d wordlessly join in — wooden spoon held aloft as I made our evening meal — and the two of us would stage an impromptu rock-out, right next to the steaming pots.
Sometimes my husband would bounce in from the other room — and, if I was lucky, my younger daughter too. But the real party was happening between my firstborn and me — the songs she played erasing our tensions of the day.
“Sad songs have been particularly cathartic during the pandemic. 'I’d rather feel sad than not feel anything,' she’ll say.”
My daughter’s playlist is her pride and joy. Music is her religion. It is, without a doubt, what’s getting her through COVID times. From the moment she gets up and sticks in her parent-cancelling Airpods until the moment she goes to bed, my daughter’s playlist provides the soundtrack to her life.
As a musician herself, she knows what moves and inspires her: pop, indie, rap — she devours it all. Sad songs have been particularly cathartic during the pandemic. “I’d rather feel sad than not feel anything,” she’ll say.
When the kids were little I didn’t listen to any music at all — unless you count Raffe. It was too loud, I was too tired — it was all too much. But over the last 12 months, when things slowed down to a halt, music has allowed my teen and I to transcend pandemic-inspired bickering and connect on a different plane.
When we’re dancing to “Only Girl in the World” by Rihanna, any clashes about un-walked dogs, or unread books, or whether she really needed to watch all seven episodes of “The Queen’s Gambit” in one night magically dissolve. And when an argument does break out, she’ll grab her speaker and intentionally crank Post Malone — a tactic I consider truly unfair: I’m helpless in the face of “Circles.”
I can tell my friends don’t get it. Last summer, I couldn’t wait to play a new favourite from my daughter’s playlist for them, “Evergreen” by Scott Helman — a spiritual experience if ever there was one — and they KEPT ON TALKING. I tried to shush them: “Wait for this line,” I instructed, ears trained on the speaker. “Here it comes … can you believe that line?” They nodded pleasantly. “It’s nice!” they said, eyeing their empty wine glasses. But I could tell that time wasn’t standing still for them. I could tell they weren’t feeling the song on a cellular level, the way I was — and the way my daughter was. She was watching me from across the yard; smiling, and shaking her head with affection. “Don’t worry, mom,” she was telling me with her eyes, “I get it. I get you.”
My daughter has a million playlists, seemingly one for every emotion: “Contemplating Life,” “In My Room,” “If My Life Was A Coming-of-Age Film” and ― the one playlist we agree to disagree on — “Songs I Put My Feminism on Hold for.” Sometimes she puts on a golden oldie, and I lose it. “Oh my GOD! This SONG!” I’ll screech as she cranks an anthem by Tears for Fears or the Psychedelic Furs — each one transporting back me to a specific time in my life with bittersweet precision.
If she’s feeling generous, she’ll allow me to introduce her to a tune from my own misspent youth. The first moments are always fraught, as she listens to the opening bars: gauging, deciding… if I’m lucky, she’ll nod and give a small smile, “Oh yeah, this is good,” she’ll say, flooding me with inappropriate levels of validation. Her approval makes me feel relevant. Like we would have been friends back in the day. Like maybe, just maybe, I still have a few things to teach her.
Other times she doesn’t connect to my choices at all, and it’s crushing. “But it’s Stevie Nicks!” I’ll say in response to her underwhelmed reaction to “Landslide.” She’ll just shrug and tell me she likes the Dixie Chicks version better. Oh she can be cold, but she knows she needs firm boundaries with me, because once I head down the wormhole of my past I can be intractable — especially if she approves of my choice. “Just wait till the drums kick in,” I’ll say, eyes closed, rocking back and forth — but she’s already skipping to another song. “What? It’s good!” she’ll say, after clocking my betrayed expression. “I’m adding it to my playlist.”
And that — is that: we will not be doing a deep dive into my long-forgotten youth tonight. Like how, when I’m listening to “Solsbory Hill” by Peter Gabriel, I can still see the faces of my best friends, all of us singing our lungs out in some random field. Or the way “Avalon,” by Roxy Music, still floods me with the same sweet melancholy as when it played at the end of every high school party I ever went to.
If there’s one downside to listening to my daughter’s playlist, both of us dancing with wild abandon, it’s that for those three minutes, I’m convinced that I’m 18 too. That if someone filmed me, it would look on the outside the way I feel on the inside: like life is just beginning. Like I haven’t yet danced all night to Wham! on a beach in Spain, or travelled alone through Thailand with only my Walkman and REM to keep me company, or moved into my first apartment and unpacked to the Cure.
All of that still lies ahead for my daughter. Of course, when I try to tell her that the good stuff is coming these days, she eyes me with scepticism. After almost a year of being trapped with her family and putting her life on hold, I can’t say I blame her. But I know that countless adventures await my girl and that wherever she goes, the music will follow.
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