My son made me a mixtape. Caught me completely by surprise, and I was oddly moved. How cool that he wanted to share these songs with me.
My son is 14, and we're good. We talk. I know enough not to press him about girls or his plans for the Homecoming Dance. Our conversations tend to go smoother when we stick to baseball, movies, television, and music. I do often wonder if we should be more engaged in dialogues about Big Issues and Life Lessons, but if he wants to talk about why Scrubs has gotten so bad, I'm good to go.
So I listened to the mixtape, and liked most of it (How about those Arctic Monkeys?)
And then, track nine brought me up short: "King of Pain" by the Police. Where did that come from? He's a good student and active socially. Was this the dreaded cry for help psychologists always warn parents about? I went on the Internet to check out the lyrics to the other songs.
From "Imotosis": "We are all basically alone."
From "Bowl of Oranges": "Everyone is alone."
From "Call Me": "They call me big, black and sexy."
As my son is an Irish/Russian mix, that one's just a catchy tune, but still....
At parent orientation for incoming high school freshman, the principal encouraged us to get involved with our kids, to ask questions. So I sat my son down and, bracing myself, asked about the mixtape.
He fixed me with that "you are so lame" death stare I'm prone to get nowadays whenever I tell him a joke that once upon a time would have killed, but now he's 14. He replied, trying to tamp down his annoyance, that he likes these songs and thought I might like them, too. I retreated, admonished, but heartened. It's comforting to know that, sometimes, a mixtape is just a mixtape.
This article originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune.