Approaching 40: Cats in the cradle

It was the 1970s. In our ranch-style house in Somerset, New Jersey, my parents had living room furniture that reflected the era: a velvet, maroon sofa with accompanying swivel chairs and a maroon tile-surfaced table. It was in that living room area that my Dad would read Dr. Seuss books to me. My mom would read to me, too, but for some reason, I mostly recall her reading nursery rhymes. The nursery rhymes quickly became familiar to me. I think I memorized most of them. (I had the ability to memorize quickly, which gave the illusion early on that I could read. I couldn’t I’d simply memorized what was on the page.)

Around that 1974/1975 time frame, Harry Chapin came out with a song, written by his wife, as I understand it, called “Cats in the Cradle.” The song was about how quickly time goes by once you have children. But I didn’t know that. When I heard the song on the radio, I instantly recognized the reference to childhood nursery rhymes: “And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon…” and I quite naturally assumed the song was about the nursery rhymes my mom was reading to me from a big book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

It’s wan’t until years later that I realized what the song was really about. And now, with a little boy of my own, the song takes on even more meaning. I find myself saying to the Little Man, on occasion, “Sorry, buddy, I can’t play right now, I’ve got work I have to do.” Almost always, that night, I think of this song, and think of the passage of time and that I will someday regret those moments when I tell the Little Man that I can’t play because I have work to do. I try to avoid that as much as possible. I was lucky enough to have parents that made time for me and my natural inclination is to do the same for my own children. It is to my shame that I am not always successful, but I do my best. And thinking of this song helps.


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