Brass Monkey, that funky monkey

All high schools in the city, it seems, have a reputation or something that they are known for. Some schools are known for their excellence in fine and performing arts, some schools have fabulous vocational programs, some schools excel at sports. The nearby Catholic high school, for example, has won the city championships in football pretty much every year since its inception. Our high school has a reputation for academia, and the demographics in the school reflect that.

So it was with interest that I attended Math 10 Parent Info Night on Tuesday. We are a very mathematically-inclined family, and even though I couldn’t imagine what the info night would cover – I already had the course outline, complete with weighting for each unit, test schedule, and information about notes-for-purchase and the required graphing calculator – I wasn’t going to miss it.

It turns out that, hilariously, in addition to a discussion about different streams of math and the various avenues available for academic assistance, the math department felt the need to give a somewhat prolonged lecture with an underlying message to parents to just calm the fuck down. It was priceless.

I consider myself to be, in many ways, a very strict parent. I have high expectations for my children in terms of academic performance, work ethic, and general behaviour, but in that crowd, I looked like a lax, overly permissive hippie.

My son’s math teacher got up to speak; he is an older, very formal gentleman who is of Ethiopian descent. He began with a very long story about how he is actually a physicist, he loves teaching high school math but his first major was physics. This went on for some time, causing me to tilt my head and think where is he going with this. Eventually he revealed that his daughter, in high school, was struggling in physics. More than struggling, she was suffering. And so, after some discussion with the teacher, he withdrew her from physics. In the car on the way home she sighed with relief and said “I didn’t think you would let me drop physics.”

At this point the teacher appealed to the parents, saying that he did not know WHY she would think that she had to take physics, just because HE was a physicist. That was HIS dream, not hers. I half expected him to start reciting Your children are not your children, but instead he stated that, as parents, we may have dreams of our children being engineers or doctors or what have you, but there are many, many different paths to success in the world.

He concluded by saying, with much pride, that his daughter is now a high school band teacher. I smiled, and looked around at my fellow parents, expecting a certain smiling reaction to a man who has revealed with pride and joy that his daughter chose her own path, one that has led to success.

The room was silent. All the parents were leaning back in their chairs with their arms crossed, and a look of bemusement mixed with horror on their faces.


After that the presentation opened up to a Q and A session, which was equally ridiculous. One mother kept pressing to see what SPECIFIC grades a university engineering program required for entrance, a question literally impossible to answer. A father asked which math stream was appropriate for a student who has career aspirations of being an astronaut. Sir, if your child is going to obtain a PhD in Astrophysics, probably that child should pursue the more RIGOROUS math stream?

At that point I booted it out of there, and when I got home and relayed the story my son pointed out that I did, indeed, look a little bit like a hippie with my yoga pants and mala, which seemed a bit aggressive on his part. It’s not like I was wearing Birkenstocks or sporting leg and armpit hair.

I do very much value academics, but I am also very happy that my son is taking drama this semester. I played Amanda Wingfield in our high school production of The Glass Menagerie, and I can still do a mean Southern accent. I also played – bizarrely – Shelly in Grade 11 when our school did Buried Child, and if you do not know this play, I suggest you google it and sit in awe that a high school actually put on such a thing.

Anyway, the current unit in my son’s drama class is lip-synching, and he and a friend have chosen Brass Monkey as their assignment.

As a slight aside, during the week the boys work out in the “dungeon” after school; they alternate days and if I didn’t already know their workout schedule I would be able to ascertain it based solely on the playlist blasting from the basement. My younger son’s playlist is almost entirely Guns and Roses, interspersed with some dreadful death metal and – strangely enough – Elton John. There’s something weirdly unsettling about having Tiny Dancer follow Mr. Brownstone. My older son’s playlist is similar, except that it is Van Halen with Led Zeppelin, with the occasional Michael Jackson tune.

I am not judging, here, my own workout playlist is similarly eclectic, with everything from Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock to the Pointer Sisters to Jimi Hendrix to Eminem.

Because of the impending Brass Monkey performance, my son has been working out to the Beastie Boys exclusively this past week, and let me tell you this: if I thought having Honky Cat in my head for six days straight was bad, it was NOTHING compared to Brass Monkey. Honky Cat, at least, has lyrics that I know and are varied. Now I just keep mentally yelling Brass Monkey, that funky monkey, Brass Monkey junkie…over and over in my head.

Yesterday my son was working out and I was inspired. I ran down the stairs and screamed at him “WHAT’S THAT NOISE?”

He stared at me for a moment – I’m not a screamer, especially not for no apparent reason – and then it dawned on him. “Mom, you’re just jealous, IT’S THE BEASTIE BOYS!”

It was as proud a moment as could be. I felt like his math teacher, beaming with pride and joy. I also felt like this:

Well, this Cool Mom is off to do some cardio and maybe I’ll add the Beastie Boys to my playlist today. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! xo


  1. Hilarious! Love it. My kids workout at the gym and they only ever listen to music at home with headphones on, but I have awed them in a similar fashion by blaring the occassional song from my youth that comes on the radio while we are in the car and knowing the lyrics or at least partial lyrics. ‘Doing the humpty dance’ is one that comes to mind. Something along the lines of ‘yeah my nose is as big as a pickle but I still get laid’. Of course it did not dawn on me in the moment that the song was totally inappropriate. I enjoyed the music back in the day and while I knew the lyrics I never really THOUGHT about them.

    I can relate to the high school scene. Some parents are so nutty. I am excited to see what path my kids choose for their career plans, but I do no steering. I have kids with tons of academic ability/focus and some that struggle. A mom once said to me that she was happy with our high school because her very bright son’s class schedule kept him from mingling with the riff raff. Not a direct quote but her words were not even close to politically correct. Lad was the same age as her son and was not in the same academic advanced courses and I was stunned. Essentially she was glad her kid did not cross paths with the likes of my good but not gifted kid. Ugh.

  2. Oh my goodness you make me laugh! You are clearing raising that child RIGHT.

    (A high school BAND teacher? The horror! The shame!)

    (You know I am kidding, I hope.)

  3. Oof as I said on twitter Oldest goes to a high performing academic school. We did not send him there in the hopes that he would go to an Ivy League college or MIT, we sent him because he is bright but had been perfectly happy to do very little work, get good grades, and fly totally under the radar in our local public school. However there is a not insignificant percentage of parents who send their kids there because they are convinced they are going to be the next Stephen Hawkin (or something). Oldest is a junior this year so there has been a lot of meetings and conversations around the issue of college and after the last one I decided I’m not going to any more group meetings. I went hoping to get information on logistics: when to take the SAT, how to apply, how to get a handle on choosing a college, etc. Instead it was 2 hours long: 1.75 of those hours were the college counselors basically trying to get certain parents to calm the hell down and stop convincing themselves and their kids that if they didn’t get into an elite college their lives were at an end and how could their kids cram in one more activity that looked good on their application or improve their SAT scores. It was . . . not a meeting I needed to go to. I mean I know there are crazy parents out there but MAN it was on full display at this meeting and I can’t handle that level of crazy.

  4. HA! I adore that your boys have such a varied playlist and interests in life; variety IS the spice of life! Parents do tend to want to ‘live their dreams’ through their kids lives. They are their own people and should be able to choose what they want to do in their life. I think the Math teacher is brilliant.
    Also, I love the Beastie Boys. I saw that there is a documentary coming (apple TV) out about them very soon. Look for it.

  5. It absolutely stuns me what kind of pressure some parents put on their children. I was a strict mom and expected grades that I knew he was capable of, behavior, etc. But we never dictated what should he aim for career-wise. He is now in a position that he loves. Will he make a ton of money? No. Will he shape the lives of many children? Yes. And he’s happy. What more could a parent ask for?

    Guns and Roses, Elton John, Van Halen, etc. and the most recent addition of The Beastie Boys? Yes, you ARE a cool mom and are definitely raising those kids correctly!

  6. I love this math teacher. I wish so many parent could see the ill effects of what the high pressures they put on their children is doing to them. I read ‘The Awakened Family’ a couple of years ago and it was life changing for me as a mom. I still have high standards but I refuse to make my child anxious and not want to pursue her own path.

    PS – went to Costco to look for Kalettes – they were sold out!! 🙁

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