At any given moment in America right now, thousands, perhaps millions of children are belting out the platinum hit from Frozen, "Let It Go." Some of their moms are singing along (despite a kerfuffle over Elsa's surprisingly sexy performance), mainly because it's impossible to get this tune out of your head.
Don't get me wrong, it's a great song. I liked the movie. Idina Menzel has some serious pipes, as she will prove once again when she performs "Let It Go" at the Oscars on Sunday. But I worry that I'll have a hard time sitting through her big number, because if I hear that song one more time I might stick my head in the oven. My daughters sing it, my niece sings it, my friend's two sons sing it. A kid on the subway sang it at the top of her lungs on my 3 train the other day, all the way from Clark Street in Brooklyn to Times Square. Her father looked stricken and glassy-eyed. The song has been streamed 25 million times; the sheet music is sold out and on a three month backorder. It's the show-stopping climax of the sing-along version of Frozen, in theaters now.
You have to ask yourself why "Let it Go" has imprinted so strongly on kids. Why is this hit bigger than other good ditties, like "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid or "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast? Here's my theory: It's a protest song for the under-12 set. They've had it up to here with our modern parenting methods in general, and our approach to discipline in particular. They don't want to sit under the "peace tree" or earn another good-behavior sticker on yet another chart, and they especially don't want to take a freaking time out. Just look at the lyrics of "Let It Go" and tell me Elsa isn't in a time out (aka a "kingdom of isolation"), enraged and defiant and subverting the dynamic by embracing her exile.
"Let it go, let it go,
Can't hold you back anymore.
Let it go, let it go,
Turn my back and slam the door.
Here I stand, and here I'll stay.
Let it go, let it go...
The cold never bothered me anyway."
Like so many parents of my generation, I practiced the time-out as a sensitive, well-reasoned response to naughtiness. So much better than spanking, right? My dad used to spank me when I was really, really bad. It always went like this: He would get home from work, hear about my crime, set me up at the end of a hallway that ran the length of our apartment, and give me a good swat. Then I was free to run down what I always thought of as The Spanking Hall, screaming at the top of my lungs. But after that, it was over. I'd come back and everyone would sit together, a little red in the face, eating dinner. We all felt bad, but no one was banished.
Just so we're clear, I'm not advocating a return to corporal punishment. But perhaps we're overusing the disciplinary alternatives in our quest to make sure our kids share, behave in restaurants, sit still at circle time and never go bonkers with a Sharpie. Should we give our kids a little more slack, before this songfest becomes a full-on revolt? Next time one of my daughters legitimately screws up, you know what I'm planning to do: [Sing it with me] Let it go.