During the last six months or so I have become–thanks to my son, who turns two years old today–a modest expert on a narrow artistic genre: YouTube music video covers of “The Wheels on the Bus.”
You might be surprised to learn that a YouTube search for “wheels on the bus” yields more than 13,000 results. If I’d thought about it before I looked, I might have expected a few hundred videos, or maybe even as many as a thousand. The real number continues to surprise me, though less and less so as I’ve explored the catalog. I don’t know how many of them I’ve watched at my son’s request–more than 100, to be certain, but fewer than 300–but I have clicked through pages and pages of search results. They seem to go on forever.
Although it’s a generally dismal musical field, there are a few exemplars that I’ve come to think of as my favorites. The Pete the Cat version has a fairly accomplished ska thing going on that I dug the first dozen or so times I listened to it. (Porter quickly grew to despise it; I think it was too loud for him.) I liked this rock anthem-ish version for a while, but Porter only wanted to hear it three or four times before he was bored, and whenever I encouraged him to choose that version afterward, he saw right through me. (If you just watched that last version and are wondering why I’d prefer such a thing, please watch another 45 or so versions and then tell me it doesn’t crack your top ten.) This version, which Porter loves, has Roger Daltrey in it, and seeing the former front man for The Who act goofy was a head trip for a day or two… but then it started to bother me. And that’s about it.
The rest of the field is composed largely of utter strangeness (a disturbing hipster Mr. Rogers-esque version, a Weirdly Smiling Mommy version, a trippy shroomed-out version), clips from a variety of children’s television programs (Barney etc.), and ESL learning tools. The ESL versions are generally Porter’s favorites, likely because he’s still learning English himself. I can barely stand to watch them. They’re maddening.
Why have Porter and I fallen down this particular music video rabbit hole? (The first such trap, I am led to understand by veteran parents, of what will surely be many.) I think there was an afternoon several months ago during which we sang the song together, then a brief need to distract him for some reason, which led to the bright idea to play him a video on my Droid, which in turn meant I had to decide what to search for. Wheels on the bus, I thought. He’ll like that. He sure as hell did.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about his “bus video” (as he calls them) viewing habits. Typically, he’ll ask to “watch a bus” at the end of the day, when he’s tired; he’s not actually asking to watch a single video, mind you, but a half-hour’s worth. (We never let him watch nearly that long, save for one regrettably necessary two-and-a-half-hour stint in the ER that nearly burned out my phone.) He’ll go four or five days without thinking about it, then two or three days in a row of asking to see them, and he tends to want to watch the same five or six videos over and over again during that span. Then he abandons those and makes us look more deeply into the search results to find new content. It’s like he’s on a quest to watch them all, or to find the apotheosis of the subject, or make himself into some kind of “Wheels on the Bus” scholar. I don’t understand it.
Let me say that again: I do not understand it. Like most parents in similar situations, I find it wearying, but as an artist who generally does whatever he can to avoid watching the same stories over and over again, I find it deeply frustrating. What would compel him to demand this experience so many times? Why does he crave it so much? (And believe me, the tears he sheds when I put away the phone or the iPad or shut the laptop? Oy.) I’m sure there’s a child development expert who can explain it to me; I’m too busy balancing being a father and husband and wage-earner and playwright and blogger and a thousand other things besides to figure it out. I just wish it would stop!
But it won’t stop, and being a father means I have to accept that. Fatherhood demands many similar things, in fact: it makes me challenge my most dearly-held beliefs and compromise my most avid and familiar practices. There’s no getting around it: I don’t get to live as I wish any more. Those days are largely over. And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because the thought that I might be trapped in some kind of rut, that I believe things and do things simply because some combination of genetics and experience have programmed me to believe them and do them, disturbs me even more than a few hundred “Wheels on the Bus” videos. My son’s demands on me are, really, a great and enlightening gift, as difficult as they can be. And I’m genuinely grateful for them.
And don’t drive angry!