by Amanda Parry
Dear Taylor Swift: Young lady, we need to talk.
You don’t know me, but I feel like I know you incredibly well. My children adore your music, and by now I’ve listened to your albums so many times I could write an academic dissertation on each track.
Don’t worry; this isn’t a preamble to something negative. I am not one of the haters you must shake off. In fact, you could punch a blind orphan in the face, and I would make excuses for you. (“Kid had a mouth on him.”)
You are obviously a gifted musician, and if I had a nickel for every time a fellow MOTSF (Mom of Taylor Swift Fan) said, “She’s such a great role model!” I would be, well, nowhere near as rich as you, but I’d have a lot of coins.
I’m not crazy about every song you’ve ever written, but you probably wouldn’t like all of mine, either. (Although the chorus to “Shut Up and Go To Sleep Before I Change My Mind About Corporal Punishment” is really quite catchy.)
And I was never convinced that you were truly a country artist, although you certainly have the country musician’s gift for storytelling. That expression, “It’s like she’s singing about my life,” is definitely true in your case. I just wish you wouldn’t write about the times life kicked me in the nuts and ran away laughing.
As a mom I can’t condone all of your romantic choices. You can be forgiven for that John Mayer disaster since you were so young, even though the rest of us could tell he was a walking sack of excrement just from the self-satisfied smirk perpetually etched on his Cro-Magnon mug. (Here’s a hint: when a guy with a reputation as a man-whore asks you to record a song called “Half of My Heart,” about a self-absorbed jackass who can never truly give himself to another, he’s probably not a good bet for a long-term, stable relationship. It’s okay, dear. Go console yourself in a bath of royalty checks and forget this ever happened.)
Okay, back to the point and that is this: I’m very concerned about you. In 2012, you released a single called “Ronan,” about a 4-year-old boy named Ronan Thompson, who lost his battle with neuroblastoma (the same kind of cancer my own daughter has).
The song is based on a blog kept by the boy’s mother, Maya Thompson, and includes some of the most haunting lyrics I’ve ever heard. In the chorus, the mother sings to her child: “Come on, baby, with me . We’re going to fly away from here out of this curtained room , and this hospital gray will just disappear.”
The first time I heard those words I was astounded because that’s exactly how it felt. Here’s this little person you love more than yourself, someone you would do anything to protect, and you can’t do a damn thing to help her. Your motherly instincts tell you to snatch her up and run — or fly — as far as you can, to comfort her and console her and make all the pain and sickness go away. But you can’t, so you do your best to make her comfortable and pray that all this suffering isn’t in vain.
And then there’s the verse where the mother talks about her grief after her child has died: “What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you? And what if I kept your hand-me-downs you won’t grow into? And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through? And what if the miracle was even getting one moment with you?”
Those words capture so perfectly both the uncertainty and the stakes involved when children get cancer. As a parent, you’re terrified of losing your child because she is the greatest gift you’ve ever been given. You don’t want to be ungrateful for a single second you have had with her, but you can’t help but worry about what might come next.
Because cancer never really lets go when it latches on to a child. Of all the children my daughter started treatment with, she is the only one still alive. Some of the boys and girls we knew had made it through treatment and had even been declared cancer free, only to have the disease return stronger than ever.
But we’re the lucky ones because at least Charlie will be alive. To imagine your child going through all that suffering, only to miss out on the joys and necessary heartaches of growing up, must be unbearable.
And this is why I am so concerned about you, Ms. Swift. Yes, I get that Maya Thompson provided the material for the lyrics to “Ronan,” but you made a connection to her story. A writer can only move halfway to her audience. Somehow, at your tender age, you bridged the gap.
That in itself is a huge testament to your character. That you were only 22 at the time (three years ago)? Extraordinary. That you gave his mother a writing credit and donated all the proceeds to children’s cancer research? Well f—k you for making me feel even more feelings.
Also, you look so thin these days. Are you sure you’re getting enough to eat?
Amanda Parry, 39, grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended Germantown Friends School from kindergarten through 12th grade. Amanda is the mother of two special needs children: a 6-year-old son with autism and a 5-year-old daughter who has developmental delays due to an ongoing battle with cancer. Amanda started the blog UnexceptionalParenting.com to let off steam. She lives in North Carolina. Her parents, George, a former federal prosecutor, and Natalie, still live in Chestnut Hill.