Metallica plays kindergarten

Like most people in their dotage, the halcyon days of childhood exist but sporadically in the memory. Most of the first five years are gone (except for the time my mom grilled my hand by accident), and I’m not sure I even remember going to grades K-4. I do remember, though, a record album called “Bobby and Betty Go to the Moon,” which I listened to endlessly for a couple of months. It had scary, sci-fi music, and some ridiculous story about, well, kids going to the moon.

So, in addition to whatever my mother was listening to on the AM radio in her Dodge Dart, that’s where I was musically around age 6. Fast-forward to 2008 and our own kindergartener’s weekly show-and-tell. Last week, it was “bring in music you like” day, and Jen prepared a CD of some of Andy’s favorite songs.

It must be noted that Andy and I both are the youngest in the family, with significantly older siblings still in the house who exposed us to their music. Compared to an oldest child, who has mostly only his parents and teachers as early influencers, the family caboose gets an earful from the older kids – not just in music, but in language (sometimes leading to grounding), movies, books, etc. But while Andy is soaking up modern bands and, at the ripe-old age of 6, shunning things like “Barney” and “Sesame Street” as “too baby,” I was listening to my little moon record.

The conclusion is either Andy is much more sophisticated than I was at that age, or something culturally has shifted, enabling kids younger and younger to dip their toes in the broader stream of culture at a younger age. I’m willing to accept both of those, in fact. Much has been written, many hands have been wrung, over the supposed negative effects of media and culture on our youngest citizens. I have one friend who doesn’t allow his children to ever watch television; others who let the kids watch all day and all night. Parents can choose as they deem best, of course, but the proper thing seems to strike a balance between those two extremes. Young children shouldn’t be treated to a non-stop smorgasbord of adult-level entertainment, nor should they be kept in the media closet for years so that they emerge as teens, blinking in the bright light of a multi-media world, wondering what hit them.

Sometimes, what’s normal in one home looks very odd in another setting. As I’ve noted before in this column, we like to play Guitar Hero once in a while, and Andy has decided his favorite song to play is “One,” by Metallica.

“It’s scary,” he said, as he wiggled to the notes on the screen.

So, of course, when it came time for kindergarten show-and-tell music day, Andy had Jen put “One” on a CD for him. While the other kids trotted out their Raffi and Barney or whatever, there’s our Andyman, cranking Metallica.

I wish I could have been there to see the look on the teacher’s face. Thankfully, though, no note of admonition accompanied Andy home and, upon a review of the lyrics, I found no bad words. And although the singer’s urgent wish for death is not exactly the rainbows-and-unicorns message most kindergarteners are used to, James Hetfield’s shrieking makes them largely incoherent.

Even so, it was one of those “Are we bad parents?” moments. In the daily chaos of family life, can we be forgiven occasionally lapses in judgment and rest assured that the child is not permanently scarred?

It seems so. So far as Andy is concerned, it’s just a song.

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