We were playing pick-up soccer in the front yard after dinner when I learned how little I know about my kids' world. After a missed slide tackle, I ended up in the grass, my skirt around my waist.
"Mommy, I see your bass!" yelled Carmen, cackling her baby hyena laugh.
"Your bass! You're wearing lace panties!"
I looked to my older daughter for help and mercifully, she obliged: "Your bass means your butt, Mommy."
"Yeah Mommy, even a kindergartner knows that!" Carmen said disparagingly, looking down at me from the lofty vantage point of her 7 ½ years.
"But why? When did this happen?" I asked both girls, but they shrugged, blasé, having already lost interest and started tapping the ball back and forth.
I like to think of myself as a hip mom with her finger on the pulse of elementary school dynamics. I download cool music, dance with my kids to Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and watch their growing awareness of pop songs, how the lyrics start speaking to them as well as the catchy beats. Carmen has always loved bubble gum girl pop she can choreograph dances to, while Ava prefers sultry Australian diva Lorde, the 16-year-old who croons darkly about class, popularity and identity. I knew we'd turned a corner of maturity when I found my oldest gazing into my phone, singing along with "Tennis Court":
Don't you think that it's boring how people talk?
Making smart with their words again, well I'm bored...
Because I'm doing this for the thrill of it, killin' it,
Never not chasing a million things I want.
I loved this song too, its sneering moodiness, its clever wordplay, but Ava could appropriate it now in a way I never would. Down in the grass after the "bass" incident, I saw myself for what I was: over the hill and out of touch, decades past the adolescence that beckons my children from Pandora and YouTube.
"It's because of the song," wrote a Facebook friend. "You know, Meghan Trainor? 'It's All About That Bass'?" Lightning flash of clarity! The song, which I'd heard but never paid attention to, was not about a stringed instrument, but a curvy woman in pastels singing the praises of her generous derriere. "I'm bringing booty back..." Meghan trills, vamping it up in the video. Impressive that she could come up with a new word for the posterior in 2015.
"Which do you think is better?" I asked the girls. "Sir Mix-a-Lot's 'I like big butts and I cannot lie' or Meghan Trainor's 'It's All About That Bass'?"
"Sir Mix-a-Lot," said Ava, who has covered the 1992 classic on the kazoo.
"Meghan," said Carmen, who always prefers what's current.
"Rappers really like to sing about butts," observed Ava.
"They sure do," I agreed.
Why do I even care that I've missed the "bass" reference? Because it's the first sign of my generational irrelevance. When I turned 42 last month, I felt a pang of embarrassment, as if I had to apologize for my mortality. We live in a youth-worshipping culture, where Taylor Swift's 25th birthday bash with Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Tribeca is heralded as major news.
"Are you middle-aged, Mommy?" asked Carmen, after I blew out my candles.
"I guess so," I admitted.
"No you're not, Mommy!" Ava protested. "Middle age starts at 50!"
"Only if you're going to live to be 100," I said with a grimace.
In my 30's, I used to romanticize aging, picturing myself puttering around a dewy garden pruning roses and writing poems like Stanley Kunitz, finally free from the tormenting desires of youth. Now that my mom's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and the other septuagenarians I know have suffered heart disease, stroke, cancer and chronic pain, that rosy glow is gone. I can't sugarcoat the journey ahead. Better not to think about it, to get down and boogie with my children to Meghan Trainor while my knees can still hold me.
But how much of Meghan's bedroom innuendo do the girls understand? Back in fourth grade, we sang along with the J. Giles Band -- "My Angel is the Centerfold" -- and I sensed the words were dirty, but not how. A year later, I became best friends with the precocious twins Courtney and Lizzie Barber, their popularity doubled by the power of two. Their mom was a divorced lawyer who was never home and the Brazilian housekeeper loved soap operas and didn't care if we roamed the neighborhood.
One afternoon, I found myself huddled with the twins by the magazine rack in the corner store, flipping the inconceivable pages of Penthouse. A naked Latina girl stared back over her shoulder at us, her buttocks oiled and gleaming like two planetary spheres. In the center of the issue, Miss September spread her legs with unfettered disdain, revealing dark layers of pink we'd never seen before. I felt a sickness in my belly like I'd swallowed a stone. "My angel is the centerfold..." Flushed, we flipped pages in silence, hearts thudding until the shop owner started walking the aisle towards us and we slammed down the magazine and pushed through the jingling door, sprinted the sidewalks all the way home.
I never told my mother what we did, filled with the rancid aftertaste of shame. She didn't know the J. Giles band anyways, like she didn't know Madonna's "Like a Virgin" or Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop," the veiled sexual lyrics I was on the verge of comprehending. She preferred reggae and '60s classics to '80s pop, blasting Jimmy Cliff in the kitchen, The Beatles in the car. I don't blame her, although there was a private world of mine she might have been able to enter, if only for a few minutes, if she'd listened to the radio back then.