The '90s was a magical time in America. Well, I think so, because I grew up in the '90s and have nostalgia fueling a lot of my fondness. Still, just the music alone proves this decade's excellence. It was an era of grunge, girl groups, and gangsta rap. These songs taught us the importance of friendship; that we must rise up against mindless obedience to the status quo; that, with time, Weird Al would parody all of our favorite songs. Little did I know that there were, among the ranks, '90s songs that low-key prepared us for parenthood.
I'll tell you the truth: I missed on so much fun music in the '90s because I thought I was "too cool" for it. Oh yeah, I was one of those kids. So much black. So many chokers. Doc Martens went with literally every outfit. (Honestly, not too much has changed.) While I (rightly) immersed myself in Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Veruca Salt, and Garbage, I was getting really snobby and calling it "enlightened." Pop music was for mindless sheep, I'd scoff. Rap was "just not my thing," I said without ever really listening to it. But, deep down in my angsty little soul, I knew that my love of Beyoncé was not a phase or limited to one song. I knew that I didn't really think Busta Rhymes was annoying. Once the spell of '90s grunge had lifted, I allowed myself to go back and revisit the music I never admitted I loved back in the day. In so doing, I realized a number of things, including:
1) I seriously missed out;
2) In so many ways the '90s was even more amazing than I thought at the time;
3) In so many other ways the '90s was absurd, but in a fun way;
4) These songs have prepared me for life beyond the '90s, including parenting;
Here are some of my top picks for the decade's most prescient ballads. You're welcome.
"Wannabe" — The Spice Girls
Things they don't tell you about parenting: asking your child what they want is how you will spend up to 43 percent of your time. Whether they can't decide on what they want for breakfast and stare at the contents of your refrigerator for 10 minutes, or they're just screaming for something without specifying what it is, you will find yourself shouting "Tell me what you want! What you really, really want!"
This is especially true of infants, who keep you guessing 24/7 for, like, well over a year.
"Everybody" (Backstreet's Back) — The Backstreet Boys
Any Millennial parent who doesn't admit to changing the lyrics of this song to "Everyboooooooody! Wash your boooooooooooody! Everyboooooooody! Wash your body right!" during their kid's bath time is lying to you. Call them out.
"My Heart Will Go On" — Celine Dion
This is the song that would run through my head after I spilled (or thought about a time I spilled) breast milk. (While it was happening, I usually saw everything in slow motion as Mozart's "Requiem in D Minor" played in the back of my mind, over my screaming lamentations.)
Nothing else captures the righteous heartbreak and resilience of the human spirit that is required to move on from dropping five ounces of hard-earned liquid gold on the kitchen floor.
"Enter Sandman" — Metallica
I mean, not really. I guess maybe if your child is scared of monsters under their bed or in the closet (or, conversely, if they love sick guitar licks) it gives you a good idea of what might be running through their heads. Honestly, though, I just think the idea of singing this to a small child as a lullaby is really funny.
"Creep" — Radiohead
This Radiohead classic well-prepared me for those times when I'll be sound asleep, and one of my children soundlessly sneaks out of bed. I open one eye only to see them silently staring at me. How long were they just standing there, watching me sleep? Are they possessed? They look like a terrifying child in a J-horror right now. They do not react at all when I am startled, except, perhaps, a slight smile, to which I say "You're a creep! You're a weirdo. What the hell are you doing here? You don't belong here!"
"You Oughta Know" — Alanis Morissette
"You Oughta Know" is, perhaps, the most amazing break-up song of all time. While the precise lyrics are definitely not something I would ever suggest applying to a child or parenting situation, the general idea of being angry, heartbroken, bitter, and caustic when someone leaves you is something I feel my toddler absolutely conveys whenever I have to go out. "Oh, you're leaving. I want you to know I'm happy for you... WHO ARE YOU GOING TO SEE?! ANOTHER VERSION OF ME?! DID YOU FORGET ABOUT ME?!"
Her tantrums are way more bearable to just sort of project Alanis Morissette-style wailing over them.
"Say My Name" — Destiny's Child
No! Not "Dada!" Mama! Say Mama! Say my name! Say my name! Dada wasn't the one hugging the toilet for nine months or squeezing out your watermelon-sized head from his nethers.
"No Scrubs" — T.L.C.
It's not so much that this is a song that prepares you for parenting as this is a song that will prepare your children for life and you're failing as a parent if you don't introduce them to this T.L.C. classic early and often.
I mean, do you want them to tolerate scrubs? No. You have to let them know that they don't want no scrubs and, moreover, that a scrub is a guy who will get no love from them. Call me old fashioned, but I believe that if a man has a shorty he should show love.
"Zombie" — The Cranberries
Give me another name for someone who hasn't had more than three hours of sleep in a row for a year. Incidentally, Dolores O'Riordan's epic and guttural caterwauling pretty much represent how I sound on a particularly difficult day.
"I Will Always Love You" — Whitney Houston
Is there a more parental sentiment than this? Seriously, can you think of a single one? Even the non-"I will always love you" lyrics — the ones about stepping aside because the other person needs to grow and move on without you, but continuing to love them with every bit of your heart — are so incredibly fitting for a parent-child relationship.
Oh my God, I'm not crying right now thinking about the day my sweet children inevitably grow up and leave me. You're crying, you big baby.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" — Nirvana
Just looking at the lyrics to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is, um, confusing? Kurt Cobain suggested, at various points, that the song meant various things, usually focused around the ideas of contradiction and revolution. Dave Grohl, however, suggest that the lyrics are just as nonsensical as they appear at the surface. But, taken as a whole, I think this 90s-kid anthem is a perfect metaphor for parenthood. The beginning sort of takes you by surprise and immediately demands your attention — when it first happened it was unlike anything you'd ever seen or heard before — and it's absolutely amazing.
So, thank you, Music of the '90s. You've given me so much, as a girl, woman, and parent.