Whenever I’m taking my two sons to a venue that’s mostly for adults, like an art museum or a play, there is a moment when I think, “Why am I doing this? Wouldn’t it be easier to look at pictures in an art book, watch a DVD, or chuck it all and take a family nap?”
When my husband Pat and I were packing our picnic gear for a Smokey Robinson concert at the Hollywood Bowl, that exact thought crossed my mind when my younger son asked if he could bring his football. The evening concert was scheduled to start at 8:30 in a noisy outdoor arena. Crowds and packed parking would rule out a quick getaway regardless of a child crying because he was tired, bored, or cold. What was I thinking?
As my ten and six-year-olds, Spencer and Murphy can attest, their father and I have little patience for the simple pop strains of mainstream kid music. Early on, we decided to share the music we enjoy with our children. This might seem dictatorial to some, but it kept us sane. It’s also the reason why our then four-year-old was able to identify Aretha Franklin as “The Queen of Soul” at a family barbecue.
We had been listening to “our music” during dinners and while playing board games, but the boys had never heard any of these singers live. And last year, I became concerned that some of our favorite artists would retire before my children could hear them in concert. So when I looked at the Hollywood Bowl schedule and saw that Smokey Robinson was performing, I decided he was the perfect singer for their first concert.
Pat and I prepped the boys by playing Smokey’s standard songs, talking about Motown, and sharing our own reactions to his music. Smokey, after all, was the man Bob Dylan called, “America’s greatest living poet.” Along with a light dinner, we packed pillows, warm sweatshirts, and cookies. Normally I avoid leaning on the manipulative power of sweets, but we would be sitting next to strangers who might find my children’s observations and squirming far less charming than I do. Cookies would provide distraction and an incentive to be well-behaved.
Even though Murphy pouted about leaving the football at home, the evening went off without a hitch. This was largely due to Smokey’s impressive show and the fact Murphy fell asleep during the second half. Both boys loved hearing familiar songs and even had patience for new ones. Initially, we had chosen seats way at the back because I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in an evening the kids might not enjoy. Surprisingly, my frugality had other unexpected benefits. The kids’ ears weren’t hit so hard by the loud music and, at the end, we could wait until many of the seats emptied before carrying out our sleeping son.
The experience affirmed my decision to ignore that little voice in my head telling me it’s too complicated to bring children to art events targeted mainly for adults. Despite the fact Murphy fell asleep, both boys will have memories of seeing this important singer on stage. My husband and I were so encouraged, we later took the children to see Earth Wind and Fire, the Neville Brothers, the Preservation Hall Band, and Pink Martini. Each time the kids sailed through, and each time Murphy fell asleep.
Smokey, by the way, still sounds like he’s 28.