There’s a video of me and Jack from way back when I was 18 months old. My mother took it during one of those Mom, Music & Me classes that parents would take their kids to in order to get them out of the house before they went crazy. Jack was almost two by then, actually (it’s okay; I like older men), but we hit it off immediately. I think I’d remember that even if there weren’t a video to remind me.
Honestly, that first day I was a little skeptical about this whole Mom, Music & Me thing. I had no problem with the music element, and I understood the Me component. But my dad was the stay-at-home parent back then (before the divorce), and it was he who would be taking me. I felt somehow deficient, or wrong, or—I don’t know, just different, okay? And I know, it’s impossible for me to remember feeling all those things at 18 months, but trust me, I did.
So Dad and I get to the class, which is really just a big, child-safe (translation: empty) room with a carpeted floor. We are first to arrive, of course, because Dad always likes to get the lay of the land for these things. That way he feels less like an outsider (So, alright, maybe I get it from him). The lady running the class seemed nice enough, but she was kind of larger than life—you know, the kind of woman who doesn’t realize that adults are humongous compared to toddlers, so when she gets in your face and bubbles on about how glad she is you’re there, it’s just this FACE that takes up your entire view of the world and a VOICE blasting in your ears, “Blah blah-blah blah blah.” Needles to say (I know, it’s needless, but my Dad and I always liked to say needles. But that’s another story), I clung tight to Dad’s lap the whole time--even for introductions and the first, prescribed, “Hello, hello to everyone” song that I learned would be sung first every single time the class met.
Kids filed in and I studied them carefully. Most seemed okay, but nobody I was going to leave the safety of Dad’s lap for. Then, arriving last, was this little boy and his harried-looking mom (and maybe back then I couldn’t have immediately recognized her as harried, but I swear I had a strong sense of that emotion. Or maybe after knowing her all these years as a harried mom, I've given her that quality in my memory).
Anywho, Jack and his mom had missed the opening song where every kid (or their mom, grandma, or in my case, dad) sang their name, so Miss Martha, the teacher, asked what his name was. The kid shook his head no, but not because he was afraid. It was more like—well, more like he just didn’t want to. His mother seemed mortified, and kept saying, “Come on, honey, you can do it,” and “Don’t be scared,” and “Tell the nice lady your name,” and “All the other children would like to know who you are.”
Finally, defeated, she raised her head and said, “This is Jack.”
Then Miss Martha started singing the next song, something about everyone getting along together no matter what. It was all happy happy. In the video you can see me sometimes moving my mouth to the music. Mostly I was watching Jack.
Jack didn’t sing. He watched the rest of us with those piercing green eyes. Back then,, people would always say he looked angry, but not to me. I knew he was intensely taking everything in. But that’s another story, too.
Somewhere in the middle of this is where memory leaves off and video takes over. My mom arrived, whether unexpectedly or not, I don’t know. In either case, it was one of those occasional few times she would take time off from her job to “see what I was up to” (her term) during the day. Even then I knew it was not really so much because she wanted to be with me, though. It was more like she was competing with my father, like there were these few “firsts” that she didn’t want him to claim exclusive rights to.
And the videos that she felt compelled to make with her phone (it was a new technology back then) actually gave her a step up on my Dad, too, who was merely there.
Yeah, so the video starts in the middle of some song you wouldn’t know, unless you were dragged to those Mom, Music & Me sessions, too. I’m sitting there, with my blonde hair perfectly cut in bangs and cascading down my back, paying attention and acting all good and proper like Mom always taught me to be, with my legs crossed and a vacant smile on my face. I’m mimicking some words to the songs, but you can tell I don’t have a clue what I’m really singing. Like I said, I was just trying to be good. If we were supposed to be singing, I was supposed to be singing.
Then we reach the famous Muffin Man song, and you can see I am so excited about recognizing this song, I almost leap off my father’s lap.
That’s when Jack does the most remarkable thing. He gets up and starts running around! In the video, all you see is this blur of a kid rushing between my mom’s phone and me. I guess she was surprised by it, too, because she loses me in the video for a couple seconds.
In the video, I stop singing. I’m watching this strange boy hopping and running and skipping, in straight lines intersecting the circle of kids and their parents who previously had been smiling and singing and following Miss Martha’s rules. My mom regained me in the viewfinder, and I am sitiing there with my eyes wider than you’ll ever see them. I mean, what was this kid doing? Didn’t he understand? This was the Muffin Man song, for God’s sake!