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.

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.