“Cheap Thrills” for the Seven Year-Old
On Tuesday afternoons after camp, the kids have a yoga class at a nearby park. It’s a 10 minute drive.
We climb into the car. I start the engine. Classical music comes on. Ravel.
Heloise: (with a groan) Change it, Abba!
She and her brother love their Top 40. I do as I’m told.
We have One Direction followed by Fifth Harmony, names I would not know were I not a father.
We’re nearing the park when Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” comes on.
Heloise: (excited) Yay!
Me: (looking in the rear view mirror) Still your favorite?
Heloise nods, flashes me an open palm. Shh, Daddy.
She sings along in her seat, Chuchi joining in with a word or two. His eyes are fixed on her. If I didn’t have to drive, mine would be too.
She is seven and a half, but when she sings and dances like this, even buckled into the back seat, I see the teenager she will so soon become. Her bare arms serpentine through the air, her shoulders pop rhythmically, her head turns back and forth effortlessly on the beat.
She knows the chorus:
Baby, I don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight
(I love cheap thrills)
But I don’t need no money
As long as I can feel the beat
Chuchi accompanies her with something gleefully unintelligible. Though he knows not the words, his rhythm too is right.
We pull up to the park. I don’t turn off the engine until the song is done.
We’re early. Time for a question.
Me: So, what’s that song about?
(When it comes to my kids and pop culture, I’m not as interested in censoring what they see or listen to as I am in giving them tools to navigate it. You can take the professor out of the classroom, but…)
Heloise: It’s about me.
Didn’t see that one coming.
Me: Really? How?
Heloise: So when I was little, we lived in a big house and we had a lot of things….
(I try not to tense up. This is such a hard subject. Since Chuchi was born in 2012, my kids have lived in four different places — each one smaller than the last. Heloise remembers a big backyard, she remembers nannies, she remembers when the cars we’re still driving were brand new. Chuchi can still recall the last apartment, where he had so much more room.
Last month, when we drove past that old apartment on Wooster, Chuchi burst into tears, declaring, “That’s my real home.” His sister comforted him. “Your home is wherever I am. And I have a surprise for you when we get back there.”)
I smile at my daughter.
Me: I remember.
Heloise: And now we live in a small place and we don’t have as many things, but we still have so much fun. The song is about how you don’t need money to be happy.
Heloise: Like I didn’t know how to dance back then. Now I do. It’s much more fun. (singing ) “I ain’t got cash, but I got you baby.”
With that last word, she points to her father and brother.
Heloise: Can you put the song on your phone?
I look around. Yoga class hasn’t started yet. I open Spotify, the music starts — and there on the lawn, freed from the seat belt, my daughter dances. She twirls and shakes and flows and sings, while my son circles her, frisking like a clumsy, devoted deer.
I don’t need no money
As long as I keep dancing.
Heloise encourages me to dance as well, and I do, shuffling in a way that does not yet mortify her. For just a moment, all self-consciousness slips away, and on the grass of Reynier Park, a middle-aged father and his earthly treasures spin and prance, transported and transformed by a pop song.
The music ends. The yoga teacher shows up. The kids run off.
I go back to the car, fetch my earbuds, and put “Cheap Thrills” on autorepeat, listening to it half a dozen times through as the kids stretch and pose.