Recently our car battery died. This created a number of hassles, the least of which was that I had to reprogram our radio buttons. Jay was with me in the car as I did this. I set #1 to NPR. #2 to classical. #6 to Ann Arbor’s 107.1. He asked me what I was doing, and I explained that we program the buttons in order to make it easier to find songs that we like to listen to.
Jay got the idea—kind of. A few days later we were driving to the grocery store when a track by Kat Edmonson came on the radio. “I like this song, so push the button,” Jay said from the backseat. I started to tell him that I’d already set a button for this station, but Jay repeated his request, and he wasn’t satisfied until I did push the button, and he heard it go beep.
Ever since then, not a car ride passes in which Jay doesn’t say, “I like this song, so push the button,” and now I comply. For the most part his taste aligns with mine, which isn’t surprising since I’m the one who’s arranged the menu of radio stations.
But his curatorial skills aren’t perfect. Sometimes he’ll hear a commercial and ask me to push the button. That makes me laugh, because we’ve all, at one time or another, misheard a jingle for a car dealership as a hot new single. But I usually push the button for him anyway.
The only time I correct Jay is when he asks me to push the button twice in the same song. The other day—perhaps wary of making that mistake again—Jay asked me if this was still the song about “flying.” I hadn’t been paying attention to the lyrics, but then the chorus came back up and indeed it was still the song about flying. I told Jay we’d already pushed the button for this one, and he went quiet.
Jay’s interest in the radio has reminded me of the first time I picked out my own music. I was in sixth grade, choosing CDs from BMG, the mail-order music company. They were running a promotion—something like 10 CDs for $10—and I remember spending a whole week trying to figure out my choices. It felt important to get them just right, as if I were bringing myself into being through the choices I made. My heart breaks a little when I picture my 12-year-old self, sitting on a beanbag chair in his room, filling in the code for Helmet’s newest album.
And my heart breaks a little bit, too, every time Jay speaks up from the backseat. It’s a long process by which we figure out who we are and what we like, and Jay is only at the very beginning of that. His mistaken understanding of how the radio works seems nicely reflective of all the false starts and abandoned choices he’ll make between now and whomever he ends up becoming.
My inclination is to want to take a very active hand in that process—to tell him upfront what’s good and what’s not. But lately I’ve been thinking the more important thing will be helping Jay feel confident determining his own standards of value. And so, when he says he likes that song and asks me to push the button, I do.