These days, Mikaela might take after me in some obvious ways, but there was nothing akin to the pride I felt when, as a three year old, she demanded that we play the Jackson 5 Christmas cd incessantly from Thanksgiving through Christmas (and beyond). She'd solemnly strap on her toy drum and reverently march around the house with The Little Drummer Boy, repeatedly hitting the replay button just as it was nearly tapped out. Eventually, our percussion section expanded - as soon as Katrianna could, she toddled around after her big sister with her own miniature smiley face drum (really a tambourine, but somehow Mikaela drummed other notions into Katrianna's head) & was kept completely off beat with some buggin' centipede-styled drumsticks.
Yet, M&K's Jackson 5 playfulness couldn't be contained to merely the adventurous months. Instead of Mama's Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird, their mama sang "Rockin' Robin" to hush her little babies in the middle of the night. And, instead of the traditional alphabet song, it was "ABC" which, with some slight tweaking, schooled our scholars in their letters. Really, try it. Listen for the melody, then here we go now -
I said ABC, as simple as do re mi -
GH I'm a gonna teach ya how to sing it out,
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, let me show ya what it's all about -
MNO oo oo-
PQRST - t - t- Teacher's gonna show you -
Shake it, shake it, baby -
UV double Ew wee -
XYZ, baby, you & me, girl!
And, in 1, 2, 3 simple lessons, that's how easy reading & rhythm can be!
Next, for math & counting by twos, we cheered "2-4-6-8, who do you appreciate? (Please say that mom is me...)" Well, you get the idea -- our particular form of homeschooling would have been impossible without the curriculum guidance and educational expertise of little Michael and his big brothers.
But, is the "little Michael" qualification really necessary? Yes.
In a twist on the I Was Country When Country was Uncool theme, I was a Michael fan when Michael was uncool and right up until the moment when Michael became too cool - around the time that the Jackson 5 left Motown and became The Jacksons & Michael grew up to ascend Pop's solo throne. In my opinion, that's when his off the wall behavior started. And then, soon enough, the Thriller was gone for me (to manila or bust?). All it took was a few rockous guitar licks and one signature crotch grab, a shot seen round the world, and I beat it. He was Bad, I knew it.
But, that was ok. As the preppy tween-teen crowd clamored to expose blindingly white socks beneath their flooding black pants & worship at the King of Pop's penny loafers, I claimed little Michael all for myself. It seemed I was the only one at the time. While my older brother was romancing his dates with Steely Dan or the Carpenters and the other brother was hard rocking with Van Halen and Pink Floyd, I was perpetually stuck on the likes of Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5. Decades later, I still am.
[Though, I confess, I make one exception for the elder Michael's efforts. Whenever Chris or the kids ask me to do some extra chore or favor, I almost always agree but they have to pay a heavy price - listening to me sing a few bars of "Got Me Working Day & Night." Usually they turn away by the time I get to the squeals, up kicks, spins & moonwalking... but it's purely strategic on my part: not only do I thoroughly enjoy myself, it's a subtle yet very effective way of keeping requests to the essential minimum.]
In some respects, I had to come to terms with losing Michael Jackson in the early 1980s just when seemingly everyone else began emulating him. It sounds overly dramatic, but especially in these last years - once I had kids and had to explain my a-synchronous admiration and sadness - making those distinctions became even more poignant. Young Michael was the most talented singer I have ever heard, the most mesmerizing and dynamic dancer & performer I have ever seen, as close as I imagine we will come to witnessing a modern-day Mozart - our era's most popular musical prodigy. So, after a lot of practice, that's how I choose to remember Michael today, as well. I hope his someday has come and he can now receive a share of the peace, serenity and happiness that he bequeathed to so many of us.