My kids are obsessed with Alvin and the Chipmunks. Last month the oldest, who's 10, went with a friend to see the latest movie in the theatre; he came back fixated on the hip, wee creatures with the helium-balloon voices. He's a Star Wars lover and neophyte Batman follower too, so I'll admit the chipmunk enthusiasm rather caught me off guard. At the next opportunity to buy something with his own money, he bought the DVD... To share the movie bliss with his sisters. And watch it pretty much as often as we'll let him.
At his repeated request I bought three songs off the album; it was the first time he'd ever liked music enough to ask me to purchase it. And in the car -you know where this is going - he asks me to play them on repeat. Continually. The whole crew adores Chipmunk rock, actually. When I play it everyone sings along together as if they actually were cast in the Alvin movie themselves. A rolling capsule of song and harmony are we, when Alvin and his chipmunk brothers bring the tunes.
Each time this scenario plays itself out (and for the record, I do limit our corporate van exposure to the chipmunk crew to twice a day, for the sake of my sanity), I think back to a scene from my own childhood. I'm 14, spending three weeks in Germany visiting close family friends, and driving with them from their home in Frankfurt to Berlin. It's 1990, the wall has just come down, and we're getting ready to take our own pick-axes against it ourselves. Epic opportunity. I'm in the back with my three friends, siblings, as their parents drive the 5+ hours to Berlin. I've brought along a couple of mix tapes from home, and one in particular is a gem - packed full of Billy Joel songs, if memory serves. I'm a backseat DJ, putting in requests, asking for rewinds and fast forwards... y'know, generally trying to make sure everyone gets a hearty and satisfying dose of Piano Man. Mr F. accommodates my requests with patience and generosity for a good, long while (gracious man), until suddenly he doesn't. It all goes one chorus too deep for him, and he suddenly snaps off the radio with a firm finality and curt explanation that startle me. To this day, that moment is the one I remember most clearly from the whole trip, historic Berlin wall experience notwithstanding. Mr. F. had Had Enough. I'd been oblivious to how demanding and (in hindsight) annoying I must have been.
Oh Mr. F. How I get it now. That scene's Billy Joel is, today, my Alvin.
Youth is, almost by definition, consumed with its own wishes in a self-absorbed way. Not selfish, mind you, just self-absorbed. Life's joys are truly joyful to the young - and therefore worth pursuing whole-heartedly and (if necessary) on repeat. Life's woes, likewise, are wholly woeful... which accounts for a lot of the drama a parent sees throughout the day in her kid. It's not that he's trying to be dramatic; the experience he's undergoing often simply eclipses him. All-or-nothing propositions are emotions, to the young.
There's a good bit to be learned here, I think. But not just for the child, which was of course my first reaction. For the adult too. Yes - the child must learn to temper the pull of desire, to see the preferences and needs of others, and to harness self-control in his actions and interactions. This is the path of maturity. But the adult can learn - must re-learn, really - to make time and passion in her psyche for the simple joys of life. The exuberance that song can bring. The good mood that breaks in when a happy impulse is followed. That there is time for unfettered enthusiasm - even, sometimes, on repeat. (And even if it comes to some in the form of helium chipmunk voices. Because for some, chipmunk rock is beauty for the soul, as unlikely as that may seem.) This is the lesson adults learn from children.
The truth of it is that joy is worth stopping for. It's worth reveling in. It's worth taking time to embrace (all the more in company of other enjoyers). Joy is, after all, the reason we're here.
So the $3.57 I spent on iTunes to bring Alvin to my van? I say it's well worth the joy... Even if I do have to take measures to preserve sanity in the midst.