Song #2 // The Wind and The Wave, “Grand Canyon” [Happiness Is Not A Place]

Most of my friends’ moms were teachers. As one after another of our schools closed down (the effect of faltering steel plants that would foretell a descending manufacturing sector for generations to come in the Detroit area) so too did our moms’ teacher jobs. Our moms became stay-at-home or odd-job-working or, in some cases, substitute-teaching.

It wasn’t uncommon at all to have a friend or neighbor’s mom greet us in the classroom, standing near the chalkboard and gently telling us that our regular teacher was out for the day. To us this wasn’t a demonstration of an out of work professional plying her trade for a day in exchange for a meager paycheck or a day out of the house. It was simply Matt’s mom or Sarah’s aunt here to watch over us, the same way they did in basements and playgrounds throughout the year.

We lived in a matriarchal state. We knew nothing else.

As our fathers went to, or looked for, work, our mothers did everything for us. To say that we took it for granted is the biggest understatement of our ignorant youth. We came to expect that everything would be done for us by our moms, and so we were never able to differentiate roles of mother, teacher, provider, etc. They were all just mom.

This was especially true when someone’s mom came to watch over us in our elementary classes. One representative example was when the mother of my neighbor, Tracy, taught our class and read to us in the reading corner. In her teacher’s chair she read to us while we sat underneath her on the carpet. It was the same corner where we’d read Boxcar Children, a series of stories I still don’t understand and can’t believe actually existed.

One day Tracy was listening to her mom read us a story and couldn’t help but climb onto her lap, surely the way she did in her bedroom across the street from me. Each time she did, though, her mom (our teacher) asked her to sit on the ground. Eventually Tracy cried, and was unable to comprehend how her mom couldn’t be her mom in this one moment. I guess we too didn’t quite comprehend it either, so we sat shocked and stonefaced as it played out. What did we care if Tracy clung to her mom the way we definitely would with ours? What was this woman’s problem?

And so it came as no surprise that today, when I visited my daughter’s preschool for the first time as a guest, Orla ran to my lap and answered all of my group questions as I tried to recite “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and explained to a group of 3 year-olds what poems and the winter solstice are. This was the same poem I had read to her every winter night since she was 6 months old (we won’t even talk about my reciting of “Let us go then, you and I” each time we leave the house.) How was this every different?

Today I became the matriarchy.

I looked into her classmates’ faces as I recited the poem (remembered over time not just through repetition, but through the easy AABA BBCB rhyming pattern) and tried to explain winter, the darkest evening of the year, horses and sleighs, etc. They stared blankly at me. Some kids tried to talk about Santa and candy canes (and zebras for some reason.) Orla kept running up to me, nestling her face into my neck, answering my questions about cardinals and other winter songbirds.

But it wasn’t until after reading the poem a second time that every other kid in the class rushed me excitedly, all at once trying to cram into my teacher’s lap and outstretched hand showing a storybook. It wasn’t until after reading the poem a second time that I revealed that I had brought Frozen stickers for everyone. And, yes, I knew that was Kristoff and Sven. And Anna. And Elsa. And Olaf. And a zebra.

This song was another earworm for me this year. It’s, to my mind, a perfect pop song (just as Frost’s is the most perfect poem of all time.) So short you have to hear it again immediately after it’s played the first time. Sweet in that the lyrics are at once telling and pointless at the same time. This Austin duo deserves more credit than they get, and this song deserves to be on someone’s year-end list beyond my own.