When Sam was about a year old, I was infected with a serious case of Even-Better-Than-Thats. It’s a terrible disease that affects teachers in particular, especially those with a bit of time on their hands and a fertile imagination (ie. me). Back in 2002, instead of buckling under the pressure to attend every baby-learning group possible (OK, I fell for the baby swimming one for a bit), I decided I would go into business and set up my own. So Music Time was born.
I learned a lot from my little enterprise; not least the pleasure I got out of sharing my joy in making music with other people. I developed a simple structure: a half hour of singing everyday nursery rhymes and songs with signs and actions, playing and exploring musical instruments, accompanying songs with instruments and a bit of listening to music from different times and cultures (which usually included jigging about). I ran it for about seven years, by which time all three of my children had attended, from babyhood to pre-school.
There was the pleasure in seeing adults making friends, through a joint activity, a common interest. I wasn’t a party to these friendships, not particularly, but I was aware that mothers came to my group because they valued making music with their little ones, but perhaps lacked confidence doing it on their own, and found others who shared their values.
Then there was all the business stuff I learned. I found out that there is no better marketing than word of mouth; I must have had three posters in and around my town, done about five demos at different toddler groups and that was it. I was up and running. That said, I also found out that people want to buy into a brand. They don’t always believe that smaller is better, that they are getting a better quality experience when they attend an independent group designed by someone enthusiastic and well qualified, rather than one run by a franchisee. I found that, in the midst of babies and nappies, sleepless nights and vomit, endless washing and potty training, I didn’t have what it took to compete with flashy resources and the power behind a glossy name that everyone recognises.
But most of all there was my pleasure in seeing my children, and Sam in particular, taking part. I had (in fact, I still have it, sitting on top of a shelf, next to the piano) a box of instruments specially designed for tiny hands. (I occasionally let them get it down and bang and clash and create and compose to their heart’s content.) Sam used to dance about and exclaim with excitement when it was time to get them out. Those simple songs started all of my children on their journey to communication and language. While I sang them, I signed them. As well as the rhythms and rhymes of English, they all learned essential signs, such as ‘more’, ‘please’, ‘eat’ and ‘drink’. Sam was signing long before he was talking.
It was more than that, though. There was up and down, stop and go, waiting, turn taking, the security of routines and repetition, discovery, counting, early reading; I could go on. I made coins so that they could come and ‘buy’ currant buns (after counting them). I had a piece of string for ‘elephants’ to balance on. I made a set of cards with pictures on one side and words on the other so that we could take turns making requests. There was eye contact and sharing. Stories and song.
I’ve been doing a bit of reading lately and it’s been making me feel bad. I’ve been finding out about how much a parent’s engagement with their child matters, how much of a difference it makes to educational achievement. And I have mourned the passing of Sam’s primary years, those years when I felt slowly, but surely, frozen out of his schooling; years when the journey of my slow withdrawal from involvement with his school work started. These days, it’s a rare event when he will read his book to me. I struggle to persuade him to do his spellings without a fight. Frankly, I’ve felt a bit depressed.
But something happened today, something quite unexpected, that made me stop and think. There I was, sitting at the table, surrounded by the debris of a Saturday lunch, reluctantly contemplating the washing up, the wiping down, the sweeping up. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not the biggest fan of cleaning, in any of its forms. I have a multitude of professional procrastination techniques up my sleeves. However, eventually, the job has to be done, and often my answer is to put some songs on, crank the volume up (not so much as to annoy the neighbours) and sing and boogie the housework away.
Mid-boogie (it may have been one of my Zumba-tunes), Sam came and joined me. He didn’t attempt a Strictly-fied lift this time (thank goodness); this time he selected the tunes and we walked 100miles, told each other we were fireworks and wondered at the amazing discovery that rock ’n’ roll would save us all. We grinned at each other and I remembered that we share more, my eldest boy and I, than I normally realise.
When he was a baby, and my only baby, I used to play and play my piano to him. I lay him on the floor nearby and he would coo and I would play and sing. Later there was Music Time, and now there is Strictly and dancing and singing; always singing. It doesn’t matter that you can’t really hear the words. It doesn’t matter that the tune gets mangled. We don’t care that the rest of the family is sick of Moves Like Jagger and Scouting for Girls.
Music is inside us, and the beat goes on. My son and I.
This is not my bass. This is Daddy’s bass. (My piano is behind the Boy.)