So Morticia (not my daughter's real name) performed on Friday at a Halloween-themed school assembly in which all the fourth graders wore masks and did a dance out on the blacktop to "Thriller."
"Hey, that was great this morning," I say to her later after school. "Michael Jackson's song was perfect for Halloween."
"Michael. Jackson. He did 'Thriller.'"
"Hmm," she furrows her brows, "I don't know that guy."
"You've never heard of - wait a minute."
I turn her around and lift the hair off her neck and there it is: my name in Sharpie, just where I wrote it. This is my kid, all right. I turn her around to face me again.
"You really haven't heard of Michael Jackson?"
She shakes her head. "No, Mom. Did you used to listen to him in the olden days?" she says, then immediately jumps out of my reach in a learned move that I'm sure anthropologists have a fancy term for meaning an acquired, reinforced behavior existing solely for the purpose of ensuring the survival of the specimen long enough to reproduce and pass their sassy genes on to the next generation.
Meanwhile, my brain is doing a massive recalibration. If she doesn't know who Michael Jackson is, then it's safe to say that she also hasn't heard of Peter Gabriel, INXS, Devo, The Cars, OingoBoingo...the list goes on and on. How could I have overlooked my first-born's musical education - The 80s Edition? How could this be possible when we listen to music in the car all the time?
"My baby!" I cry and gingerly take her face in my hands. "Quick, Honey, tell Mommy - who's the lead singer of Garbage?"
She peers at me with her huge blue eyes, blinks twice and peeps, "Shirley Manson."
"Thank heavens!" I hug her to me. All is not lost. We just need to fill in some blanks.
I take her to the computer.
"Okay, Michael Jackson. Huge, huge star since he was a kid." I Google him and wait an interminable 0.04 seconds for the results. "Hey, he's cute! Who are all the other guys?"
"His brothers. They were called the Jackson 5. He has sisters, too. Okay, now here's a photo from the 'Thriller' days. " "He's all grown up!"
"Yup, that was in the 80s when he was about the biggest thing going. He had hit after hit."
"Let's see more photos!"
So then we come across this one:
"Who's she?" says Morticia.
"Oh, um, that's Michael Jackson, too."
"Oh, come on, Mom." She rolls her eyes. "That's a lady."
"Um, well, no. He just looks different than he did back in the 80s. I think it's the longer hair that's throwing you. Here, let's find another picture." I click the mouse and this one pops up:
Five minutes later after the screams and tears have subsided, I try changing course and coaxing her into watching the "Thriller" video.
"Wait 'till you see the dancing, Honey! It's fun - it's like a tiny movie."
[sniff] "Okay, I'll watch Michael Jackson, but not that other lady - she scares me."
"Now, listen - that's not a lady. That's Michael Jackson, all right?"
"But how can he dance when his nose keeps falling off?"
"Morticia! That picture is fake, okay? It's pretend."
"Oh!" [looks relieved] "I get it! And they also did the super-white skin and all the eye makeup as a joke, right?"
"Um," [looks away] "no, that part is real. I think he likes looking that way."
Morticia crosses her arms and stares at me.
"Look, none of that matters, all right? Michael Jackson is the King of Pop! He's put an indelible mark on popular music - decade after decade, don't you see? He's a massive star!"
Morticia puts her hands on her hips and her eyes narrow.
"As big as Miranda Cosgrove?"
Editor's note: Yup, this really happened. And sorry for the kind of gross (but thankfully fake) nose photo. That's how it rolled out "in real life," as the young 'uns say.