There’s this concept that your life is like a movie, and the songs you fill it with are its soundtrack. I love this idea. Music can add so much depth and feeling to whatever is happening onscreen. Memories of our own lives work largely the same way. Just as I can hear a song from a movie and easily conjure in my head what was happening onscreen, I love that I can hear a song and it will take me back to a particular time or place in my own life.
I’ve always tried to keep a song, or sometimes just a refrain, playing in my head most of the time, maybe as motivation, or maybe just to add a little ambiance to a situation. When I lived in New York, I used to constantly sing Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” to myself as I walked through the city. Any time I take a road trip, I hum Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” as I pull out of the driveway. I don’t know; it really does make life feel a little more cinematic, I guess. Sometimes I’ll use a song as a mnemonic device for something I need to remember. Not like a grocery list, more like a mantra or a personal theme song. And I’ve had this new one since the birth of my son three years ago. It’s this old Rick Nelson song, “Garden Party.” Not the whole thing, just the chorus. It goes,
“Well it’s alright now
I learned my lesson well
See you can’t please everyone
So you got to please yourself.”
You see, I’m a chronic people pleaser. At least I was, and then I had a child. Motherhood changed me in this unexpected, but fundamental way. Before I was always concerned that people might not like me, so I tried to be what others needed. I was desperate for approval, but having a baby just prioritized everything in a different way. It’s like I was suddenly everything for this one person who actually truly needed me to be everything, and all the other stuff just kinda fell away. I suddenly realized what I could be for other people, and what I could not. I no longer had the time or the energy or the head space to succumb to the pressure I had always placed on myself to please everyone else.
Truth be told, this shift happened not at birth exactly, but just a few hours before. Going into the hospital, I had my birth plan all laid out in my head to go the natural route until the pain proved to be too intense. Well, shortly after my water broke and I had that first very real contraction with its very real pain, an image, and naturally a song, popped into my head. That image was of Tina Turner in a heavily shoulder padded chain mail leotard screaming the refrain, “We don’t need another hero.” That’s when it dawned on me. Who was I doing this for? Who was I trying to please with this display of stoicism? Was it the nurse who was also dealing with three other women giving birth that day? Was it the group of mom friends I haven’t yet met but with whom I would undoubtedly swap birth stories at a future play date? I realized how stupid that was. Tina was right. This was my birth, my own personal Thunderdome, so I was going to write my own script. And my script would include an epidural scene.
Before I had a child, I knew pretty well who I was. I had opinions, sure. But convictions? Not many. I would always get a little sad when I would hear the Billy Joel lyrics, “…and she can’t be convicted, she’s earned her degree.” Well, I had my degree, and yet I would so often find myself easily swayed by another person’s viewpoint because that would make them happy, right? I was always afraid the person might not like me if I disagreed. Ask me now, and you will get a very different response.
When your primary role is suddenly to love and protect someone who can’t yet help himself, you quickly develop the kind of backbone that makes you care less about what others think of you, and care more about how you see yourself when you look in the mirror. The end result is that motherhood has made me much more confident in who I am. Do I still want people to like me? Of course. Who truly doesn’t care about that? Do I still fret for days, sometimes longer, that I might have offended someone in casual conversation, so I replay it in my head over and over again to make sure? You bet. Old habits tend to die slow, painful deaths. But being a mother has taught me whose opinion truly matters to me. I don’t want my son to grow up thinking his mother is a doormat. I want him to see me as strong and fierce, but most importantly, authentic and true to myself.
One of my favorite songs that I try to keep in my head when I get that urge to please others and lose focus on what is in the best interest of my family is “Jane” by Ben Folds. All the lyrics are exceptional, but this one part is particularly apt for me right now.
“Jane be Jane
You’re better that way
Not when you’re trying
Imitating something you think you saw
Jane be Jane
And if sometimes that might
Drive them away
Let them stay there
You don’t need them anyway.”
You see, I always knew that a soundtrack drove my life, but it took motherhood to show me that I had to play the lead role in it.