Last year, I posted on my personal Facebook page a one-sentence message to the cancerous lump that had, earlier in the day, been removed from my father's throat. I recognized the inherent silliness of such a status update; after all, the lump and I were not friends. My sister-in-law and I, on the other hand, were, and she read my snarky "don't let the door hit you in the a** on the way out, cancer," one-liner, told my brother, and thereby prompted a heated call to scold me for putting something like that out there, because, as he put it, his daughter might somehow see it. She was 15 years old, goes to Miley Cyrus twerk-fest concerts, is on Twitter and watches R-rated movies, but apparently knowing that her grandfather had a cancerous bit removed without incident was over the line. Um, OK.
Ever since this Facebook-induced spat, I've been pondering the what, when and how much of information sharing with children -- my own and others. As a father to a pair of children 10 and under, I attempt to walk the line between knowledge and innocence. It's tricky, for sure, but kids cannot develop a worldview if the world is kept from them and they cannot learn empathy if they are unaware of the struggles of others -- past and present. While both still in single digits, each of my daughters has already stared into the eyeholes of a KKK robe, sat in Rosa Parks seat on that famous green and yellow bus and were briefed on what wretched disease their pop pop was battling last year. They also know that people of the same gender can fall in love and might just wish, like their parents did a dozen years ago without incident or courtroom battles, to make a lifetime commitment to each other. This is modern day knowledge that will help them better understand the world. The balance I try to strike then is to open up the door to that world but not push them out into it before they've had a chance to soak up every last ounce of childhood.
Human rights, marriage equality and, even more basically, the mere existence of the LGBT community are topics I wouldn't dare shield from my kids. We talk about my youngest daughter's 1st grade classmate who has two moms... actually, no, we don't really talk about it at all for it is not a thing at all -- it simply is. The boy seems loved and the moms seem to love each other. Cool.
We do talk about other topics they have a context for in childhood, like lemonade stands, their dad's vinyl record collection, first day of school fears, why most elevators are built by someone named Otis and if we could actually eat a cookie as big as our heads. All of that, plus a whole lot more, is expressed in song in the Golden Age of Family Music -- a phrase I've coined to refer to the present day proliferation of quantity + quality all-ages musical options for families. Nearly every topic has been covered and covered well by the dozens of bands passionately making original music for 21st century families, but what about a hip-hop song that deals directly with marriage equality, a song wearing kid gloves but one that still punches hard? Surely, such a tune would be blasting from daycare center speakers and 2nd grade classroom dance parties in 2014, right? It shouldn't just be Kidz Bop versions of sexual innuendo-laded pop songs or our own favorite bands that our children hear, right? Right? But it is pretty much exactly that, this despite kids of all ages in school with, and in camp alongside, friends who have two moms or two dads, just as they are with classmates from single parent or stepparent households as a result of divorce or death. These realities are an undeniable part of modern childhood. But rarely are they discussed in song.
Enter "Rainbow," the game-changing new single from Karen K & Mista Cookie Jar, which draws influence stylistically and thematically from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' modern equal rights classic "Same Love," while respecting a young child's inherent curiosity, their thirst for knowledg, and their instinctual inclination towards tolerance and acceptance. "Rainbow" also understands a young child's desire for a killer hook to sing long after the song is over and grants every parent's wish to not bash their head in at yet another banal kiddie song played on repeat.
Play it here.
"Rainbow" is not the first kindie song to confront the topic of gay and lesbian moms and dads (see: Alastair Moock's "Two Mommies" and, more recently, The Not-Its' "Love is Love"), but "Rainbow" is the first to infuse such a song with a pop music aesthetic that will sound intimately familiar to ears growing up on top 40 radio as part of the YouTube generation. And yet it has barely found an audience beyond a modest few kid's music podcasts. While Mista Cookie Jar's solo work is no stranger to their playlists, the popular Kids Place Live channel on Sirius XM Radio doesn't appear to have played "Rainbow" once (the original or preschool version).
Whether it's in movies or folklore, we're told to focus on what lies in wait for us at the end of a rainbow, but it's what happens at the beginning that will ultimately define our children and their personal journeys. Unfortunately, not everyone will find that illusive pot of gold, but all children can nod their head and sing-along with "Rainbow," a remarkable anthem for a generation destined "to pave a civil way."
Connect with Jeff on Facebook to discover more modern indie family music. Facebook.com/outwiththekids