I’m in the car, driving my almost three-year-old to her preschool. Music’s playing.
Her: What is this?
Me: This is the Breeders.
Her: It’s fast. Fast and loud.
Me: That’s right. Fast and loud music helps us get all the wiggles out. You can shake your head and shake your arms and yell really loud and dance.
Her: I like super fast fast loud.
Me: Then you’ll love this.
I turn it to “Cannonball,” so sure I’m going to blow her tiny mind. I watch her face in the rearview mirror. As those opening alarm calls sound — AH-WOOOOooooo! AH-WOOOOooooo! — her face crinkles with slight confusion. She looks unsure. What is about to happen?
Me: Oh, man. This is the best song.
Her: No, Mom. “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” is the best song.
Me: Okay, first of all, you’re wrong.
Her: No! “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” is the best song. It’s my favorite.
Me: Off the top of my head I can think of three other songs you claim to be your favorite that are better than “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Six songs. All songs.
Her: I don’t like this.
Me: Because you’re supposed to play it louder. Here.
Her [grabbing her chest]: Mom, this song makes my heart hurt.
Me: Okay, I’ll play something different.
We whiplash over to Adele’s “Hello.”
Her: We’re in California, too. That’s where we live.
Her: Why’s he sad?
Me: She. She’s sad.
Her: Why’s she so sad, Mom?
Me: Well…she misses someone. This is called a love song. We love people so much we have to sing about them, and sometimes we love someone so much it can make us sad.
Her: She’s yelling.
Me: She is. Sometimes sad songs can be loud loud, too.
Her: Why’s she yelling?
Me: She’s yelling because she’s sad about someone.
Her: We need to make her laugh.
Me: Yeah, I don’t think we can do that right now.
Her: What is he yelling about?
Me: She. She’s yelling because she misses someone far away she loves very much.
Her: So she has to be loud?
Me: Yes, because she wants that person she loves to hear her.
Her: Because she’s far.
Me: She is. Very far.
Her: Mom, you’re sad?
Me: This song is sad. It does make me sad.
Her: Are you going to be yelling?
Me: If I sing along.
Her: Let’s do it. Loud loud.
[we sing the chorus]
Her: Why’s he so sad?
Me: She’s sad. The person singing is a woman.
Her: Why’s she yelling?
Me: Because she misses someone she loves–
Her: And she has to yell?
Me: Yes, because the person she misses isn’t listening to her. She’s trying to say she’s sorry.
Her: From the other side?
Me: … yes. You’re learning the lyrics very quickly.
Her: Why’s she sorry?
Me: Well… sometimes uh, in life you make choices, and sometimes you maybe have regrets, like sometimes there’s people you have to leave behind when you… oh, uh… when you love someone, sometimes you can love them so much and still…and sometimes you have to just… uh…
Her: She’s yelling so loud.
Me [at this point just trying not to cry]: She sure is, sweet girl.
Her: I’m sad.
Me: Me too.
Her: So sad. This is so sad, Mom.
The song ends as I park the car. I turn to look at my kid. Her eyes are downcast, her mouth a small pout. Her hands are folded in her lap. Quietly, so very quietly, she says just one word.