It was a bright Sunday morning and there we were, sippy cups in hand, stocked diaper bag at the ready, racing to make a 9:30 a.m. concert. You have to be hardcore to wake up early enough to get two toddlers washed, dressed, fed, and out the door—all before mom and dad’s first sip of coffee. But this was no ordinary engagement. We were heading to a nearly sold out show. And we wanted to get there before things got rowdy.
My husband teased, “C’mon kids, we’ll be late for Mommy’s concert,” as we hustled everyone into the car. “It’s not my concert,” I replied sheepishly.
“It’s just that the second performance is at 11:30 and you know how tired the kids will be by then. Too much stimulation and all … plus we have to get back before naptime,” I explained.
I was embarrassed to admit that, in fact, I was the one who really wanted to go. We’d been playing Justin Roberts’s albums for close to two years. Since even before the babies started crawling. Some days it was hard to get songs about meltdowns and yellow school buses out of my head. I was eager to see what the crooner with a gentle voice reminiscent of James Taylor was like in person. The kids do love his funny songs (Who can’t get enough of tunes like “I Need a D-O-G” and “Stay-at-Home Dad”?). The twins and I often get through the dreaded 5 p.m. “witching hour” dancing around the kitchen to Justin. So when I saw he was playing a show near our home, I put it on our calendar two months out.
Now that the big day was upon us, I smiled at the irony. Before I became a mom, I once worked on a feature story about another popular children’s artist named Laurie Berkner. My crew and I covered one of her concerts in Manhattan one Saturday afternoon and found throngs of preschoolers dancing in the aisles as their parents (including Jerry Seinfeld) jammed along. The adorable images made for great morning television. We had been told that Berkner had such a following that families often staked out her performances months in advance and traveled from city to city to see her and her band—just like Dead Heads. I remember thinking, “That’s kinda cool.” But I had a hard time picturing myself ever becoming a groupie.
Of course, four years later, everything has changed. I knew I had crossed over when I found myself surrounded by pint-sized fans and their middle-aged parents, jumping up and down to a song about an imaginary rhinoceros. A glut of toddlers twirled wildly at the foot of the stage as the slight young man with glasses and a guitar rocked out above. Yup, the infamous Justin Roberts. My husband observed in mock horror that most of the moms danced like it was Studio 54 instead of a wholesome children’s concert in broad daylight. True, it was a sort of a bizarre scene. Don’t worry, no panties landed on stage.
But as my delighted son and daughter clapped and shimmied, I started to bond with the crowd. These were serious fans—they whistled and screamed for an encore after the final number. Suddenly, I found myself shouting for more, too. The energy was infectious. We were having fun and so were our little ones.
Afterwards, we rushed the souvenir table along with the rest of the fans. A dad in line next to me gushed that it was the song “Yellow School Bus” that did it for him. “All on the merits of that one album—that’s why we’re here,” he told me. This, as dozens of other parents balanced babies on hips while handing over credit cards to snap up concert t-shirts and CDs. We, too, couldn’t resist. In that moment, I realized that this experience was about so much more than the music. It was like discovering a new subculture to which you immediately belong. These were parents of young kids just like me—trying to figure out this whole parenting thing—and trying not to take ourselves too seriously ... all the while enjoying a silly soundtrack on the long, strange journey.
Thank goodness for inspiring musicians like Justin Roberts, Laurie Berkner, They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, and so many of the other contemporary children’s artists making music adults can appreciate, too. Rock on!