Would you like to hear the opening lines to “Finding Nemo”? Or “Frozen”? Or “Lion King”? Or “Elf”? I’ve got you covered. Would you like me to play the piano interlude in G major to every Baby Einstein video? Done.
We all know, and dread, our kids’ favorite go-tos for video and music – the ones you try to hide under couch cushions, the ones they never believe are lost. For better or worse, kids don’t want new and improved. They’ll hit “repeat” over “select new” every time.
We laugh, slightly hysterically, about it with our parent friends, because they get it. They’ve got the same playlist. And we bide our time, checking behind our children’s ears for signs of change, a growth spurt in maturity, an end to the cycle. But if we stop to think about it and check our own Netflix queue and Spotify, we might just have to admit that our kids aren’t the only ones that play favorites.
Lucky for us, it turns out the same old thing is a good thing. According to Parents Magazine, “So much is new and overwhelming for a toddler, but repeating an activity helps her learn what to expect. That’s why repetitive songs such as ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’ are such a big hit at this age.”
Predicting outcomes is a skill. It builds confidence. It provides “a predictable pattern that empowers little ones with the knowledge of what’s going to happen next.” They like to be little fortune tellers. They like to play the grown-up card and be “in the know.” In a world entirely run by bigger, older, and debatably wiser humans, this is one way kids can stake their claim.
Maybe this is why we do it, too. We want a little control, a little predictability in our merry-go-round world. I’ve got all nine seasons of Seinfeld on DVD and Veep streaming on HBO, because I miss Elaine. If the babysitter cancels, you can find me listening to Paul Simon in the bathroom until my mom filter returns.
I will not be friends with you until you see at least one episode of “This is Us” and know Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer before he was the Designated Survivor. It’s why Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” is my ringtone. Also, it’s not Christmas until I’ve seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” and, yes, “Elf”.
I need my shows. I need my songs. Call me sappy, but I’ll tumble into them like a warm bed every time I need a break.
According to The Atlantic, it’s okay, therapeutic even, to fall back on your old favorites. It provides comfort and security in ways that real life does not. I do not know if my children will love me, or me them, when they hit their teenage years, but I know that Harry gets Sally and Wesley gets his Princess Bride.
It gives my mind a break, too, because “repetition breeds affection. Familiar fare requires less mental energy to process, and when something is easy to think about, we tend to consider it good. A movie we’ve seen seven times before is blissfully easy to process.” So, sitting back to my 378th viewing of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” after a long day is the perfect way to ease my weary brain. It’s also got the nostalgic appeal, sending me straight back to our oak paneled rec room in 1986.
Favorite music and movies are a way to create new memories, too. That’s why couples pick a wedding song. Whenever I hear Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day”, I am beamed back, transported, to that first turn around the dance floor as a wife. “Here Comes the Sun”, the opening track of my baby shower playlist, makes me feel like a new mother all over again.
We all secretly wish we had our own soundtrack running in the background of our days. We like to thread music through our lives that will tie us to certain times and places, because it gives them more impact, more heft and significance, than the other hours and minutes of our days. Music and movies provide roots to earlier renditions of ourselves.
So the next time you’re practicing zen breathing because the kids are screaming for Elsa to sing “Let it Go” ONE MORE TIME from the back seat, remember: This might just be the beginning of a memory for them that will leave a lifelong trace back to this moment with you, in the car, with the windows down, and miles of childhood left to go.