Van Halen? Mom, isn’t that some old-fogey band from way back?

June 10, 2013 

The soundtrack of my childhood was made up of my dad’s favorite country music artists: Marty Robbins, the Oak Ridge Boys, John Denver, Hank Williams Sr. and Eddy Arnold.

Sometimes, we’d visit our grandparents, and Uncle Gary would let my sister and me wear his headphones, and listen to disco music on his “hi-fi.” But most of the music we heard came from the 6-foot-long Curtis Mathes television and stereo combo in our living room. It was extra fancy because it had a record player and an eighttrack tape player. And the only records or eight-tracks we owned were classic country and gospel music.

Music as we knew it changed when I was about 10 and my sis was about 13, and our parents surprised us with AM/FM radio alarm clocks.

Every once in a while we’d listen to the country or gospel songs that had been such a big part of our childhood. But most of the time, we’d listen to Top 40 pop artists of the day, from Michael Jackson and Madonna to Duran Duran and Depeche Mode.

Eventually, we upgraded to boom boxes and Walkman stereos. And like most children of the 1980s, our mixed cassette tapes included the best of the Hair Bands.

Now, thanks to iPod music lists and rewritable CDs, my husband and I have been able to share the music that shaped Generation X with our children.

Many of the songs they know are by ’80s artists we love: AC/ DC, Bryan Adams, Guns N’ Roses, Weird Al Yankovic and Bon Jovi.

I was singing along with an ’80s radio station the other day, while taking my kids to school. It was a glorious, sunny day. For the first time in a long time, we weren’t running late. I was basking in a perfect parenthood moment. Then suddenly my world came crashing down with the phrase “What are we listening to?” “Wait a minute, y-y-you don’t know this song?” I stammered. “It’s by Van Halen. You’re joking right?” “Van Halen?” they said in a chorus. Then our 12-year-old made an exaggerated sigh — you know, like the one that’s in the Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” — and asked if she could change the channel.

“Are you kidding me? You don’t change the channel on Van Halen,” I said.

Our 6-year-old asked if I could turn the movie on.

“No,” I barked even louder. “We don’t have time to watch a movie. And have some respect for this song. It’s a classic.”

Our 8-year-old, who always has to figure out a way to be different from his siblings, bounced up and down and said, “I like it. It’s kind of like AC/DC.”

OK, not exactly the ringing butt-rocker endorsement I had hoped for, but it was enough to make me realize that we hadn’t failed them entirely.

After school, I decided it was my mission to introduce them to Van Halen.

The ice cream bars in the fridge? Those were reserved for children who wanted to give Mom’s music a chance by watching the “Jump” video on YouTube.

Our 12-year-old acted like I was making her watch a documentary with subtitles. When I asked what she thought, her response was another breathy sigh, an eye roll and the words, “I told you I only like country and One Direction.” She grabbed her ice cream bar and headed to her bedroom.

The 8-year-old danced along, filling my heart with pride and making me secretly think that if we ever had a huge inheritance to pass along, we would need to give him a little extra just for being cool like his parents.

The 6-year-old watched the video with big eyes, and squealed, “Oh, he did a back flip!” And for a moment, I’ll admit, I regretted not screening the video first, remembering how ’80s hair bands were with their spandex pants, gyrating dances, scantily clad groupies and content geared toward mature audiences.

When my sis called that night, I told her about our huge parenting mistake, and how it didn’t seem too late to reach our younger kids, but that we feared our daughter was forever lost to boy bands and hick-hop .

“It will be OK,” my sister said in a consoling tone. “We’ll get her back in a few years.”

Later, our youngest son asked if he could watch the Van Halen video again.

“Of course,” I crooned. “See? Mama knew you would love this song.”

I gave him a hug and a kiss, imagined reallocating a little more of that pretend inheritance to his bank account, and hit play on the video.

When it was over, he asked if he had earned another ice cream bar.

Staff writer Lisa Pemberton is one busy mama with three young children. She can be reached at 360-754-5433 or lpemberton@theolympian.com  .

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