What does this song have to do with work? Nothing! But also, everything!
Not long ago my oldest daughter was learning about the planets. She had to memorize them in order staring with Mercury and ending with Neptune (and I still can’t help but want to stick Pluto in there–we all have some form of inner Luddite). I didn’t realize that I had forgotten the order of the planets myself–at least its not something I’d thought about in a while. Because my daughters are in 3rd and 1st grade, they still think I know everything, so not wanting to admit that I couldn’t rattle off all of the planets in order, we went to Youtube to see if we could find a song to help… We found The Planets Song.
On Fridays, my youngest daughter’s classroom has what they call Mystery Reader Day. A parent shows up around 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon to read a couple of books to the classroom. She’s in first grade, still at the age where it is cool to have a parent come in for a visit. She’d been asking me to be a mystery reader for a long time, but the timing hadn’t worked out. I’d been very busy with a project at work, and there were no Friday afternoons that I felt comfortable taking off. Last Friday, however, things had slowed down a little, and I finally made the time to be a guest mystery reader.
I wanted to step it up a bit, and do something that would make me seem even more cool than the other parents (no matter how old you get, the desire to be cool remains). In what can only be described as providential, it turned out that my youngest daughter’s classroom had started talking about the planets the same week. What luck!
I knew what I had to do: Bring the guitar and sing the planets song. To be clear, I’m not a great guitar player, and I’m a downright horrible singer (my voice would make William Hung blush), but I didn’t let that sway me. Every male secretly wishes to be a rock star, and this was my big chance!
Before a Mystery Read makes his or her grand entrance, the teacher reads through a list of clues, allowing the students to guess who they think it is. As I stood outside tuning my Takamine, I heard the anxious children trying to guess which parent was about to enter. The teacher read the Mystery Reader clues:
This person’s favorite food is ice cream…
This person works with computers…
This person as two daughters…
This person likes to run…
This person plays the guitar… (And for all a bunch of first graders know, I’m really good!)
*Important aside: When you play an instrument, its always great fun to play in front of people who don’t play any instrument. This way the audience thinks you’re really good.
Given the set of clues, my sweet little daughter knew that the mystery reader was her dad. She didn’t expect that I would show up with my guitar. The thing is, most kids don’t have a guitar sitting around the house, or a dad who fancies himself some kind of rock star/folk guitarist. Some do, sure, and those who do are probably like my kids: Sick and tired of hearing me play that guitar all the time! But for the others, those who don’t have a wannabe-rock-star dad, the guitar is a novelty.
One time one of my daughter’s friends was over at our house playing. She kept asking me to play the guitar, and I was more than happy to oblige. “Why didn’t you become a rock star?” she asked. “Its never too late,” I told her. (I didn’t bother to tell her that there are certain limitations, talent being a critical factor.)
Ready for my big entrance, I placed the capo on the third fret and entered, satisfied to hear my new first grade fans cheering: “A guitar! Wow! Maggie, your daddy plays the guitar?”
That’s right, kids. Maggie’s dad is awesome… She’ll no doubt be the most popular kid in school from now on!
My fan base grew, as other teachers, hearing the commotion, came in to witness the excitement. Its not often, after all, that a legendary performer shows up to the school.
I strummed a G chord (or was it a B-sharp?), and at that moment I had the attention of my adoring fans–all 23 of them. They became as silent as the masses of Central Park when Simon and Garfunkel hummed that first note.
I began by telling my fans that learning a song is a great way to memorized something. I asked my daughter to name all the planets in order, and, her cheeks turning a cute shade to pink, she did so with ease… She knew this song very well.
I broke into the song, and as I sang (loud and proud, in spite of my off-key voice), I was impressed to see how much the kids seemed to enjoy it, and not entirely surprised to see Maggie’s cheeks turn a new, even brighter shade of pink. I did two choruses on my own (that’s all the song is–the same chorus over and over and over), and then asked them to sing along. Some kids got it pretty quick, while others needed a few more repeats to learn the words.
Some kids danced. One boy, who looked to be at least twice the size of any of his peers, boogied down. That kid had some serious moves, and he danced with as much shameless enthusiasm as I sang. Soon enough they all got it, and I think I’ve created a room full of child prodigies by use of song (by ‘prodigies,’ I mean kids who know the names of all the planets in order, minus Pluto). Yep, all in a day’s work. I’m not just a great father, I told myself, I’m a GREAT TEACHER!
“Again, again!” the kids pleaded. I looked to the teacher and she gave a nod. That was all the permission I needed. Together, we must have repeated the song no fewer than 10 times in a row. Of course, I still wasn’t finished. After I put the guitar down and read two books (I was the Mystery Reader, after all), my fans asked me to sing the song again… And again… And again… Naturally, I was more than happy to oblige.
Was a finished then? Hardly! Its important to treat all of your children with the same amount of love, and I still had a 3rd grader to embarrass. Her classroom was right upstairs, just begging, I was sure, to be graced by the musical styling of Matthew Rupert (my real name and my stage name). I asked the teacher, “Do you think teacher X would mind if I paid a visit to her room?”
“I don’t think she would mind…”
That was as good as a yes, and if it wasn’t, I figured I’d ask forgiveness later. I pulled Maggie out of her classroom (it was the end of the day, so the teacher didn’t seem to mind) and we walked upstairs to my other daughter’s 3rd grade classroom. I knocked on the door and stood aside so that the kids would not be able to see the rock star that was about to grace their room.
A somewhat confused teacher came to the hallway. Like most of that classroom, she already knew me. “Hi there,” I whispered, “Would you mind if I came in and played a song about the planets for the kids?”
“Uh, sure… Yeah, that’d be great.” (She was probably a little shy, being there with a real rock star and all.)
“Kids,” she said, “we have a special guest today…” It was like being introduced Live at Budokan, and as I entered, guitar around my neck, the children roared: “Mr. Rupert! He brought a guitar!” All the students were thrilled–all but one–my daughter. She buried her face in her hands, laughing, but still embarrassed. “Dad!” she exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, dad, why are you doing this?”
Why? Because–its gonna be awesome!
I gave them the same speech I had given before: Learning a song is a great way to remember something, blah, blah, blah. I began, the first time through just to give the kids a chance to figure out the melody. The 3rd graders were a little more quick on the uptake, and all of them were singing loud and proud by the second chorus: “Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune…” [chord change, repeat] [chord change, repeat] [chord change, repeat]
They sang and sang, and on that Friday afternoon, they became more and more wound up. I could see the teacher getting a little flustered, having lost control of her previously quiet classroom. So be it–This is rock and roll, after all! Fight the power!
It was time to leave, and the end-of-day bell was about to ring. My work there was done, and I had achieved something that the usual teachers could not: Educating a group of out-of-control students. For a moment I had become a teacher–the kind of teacher with an unruly classroom of hyper children. Even the boys with a reputation for being a bit problematic (and I know which ones they are), sang along and had a great time. I fielded a number of questions about the guitar, how it works, what the different notes sound like and so on.
The children begged me to come back and do it again next week. “Sure, I’d love to, but its up to your teacher.” (I suspect I won’t be invited back any time soon. Some folks just don’t understand the rock and roll way of life.) Some children ran from their seats, asking for my autograph. “No autographs!” the teacher declared, “Get back to your seats!” What a square!
What does any of this have to do with work? Everything! Being able to take an afternoon off to go ’embarrass’ my children was priceless. Not everyone can work for an employer with such flexible hours. For those of us who have that luxury, it is a tremendous benefit. Obviously this isn’t something that an employee can do every week or every month. But when we can, it makes us appreciate the employer that much more.
As for my daughters–They weren’t as embarrassed as it may seem. On the car ride home we laughed and laughed, and by Monday they thought the extra attention was pretty cool. Flexible work hours: Priceless.