My 7-year-old son, Blaise, happened to be studying the Revolutionary War as part of his homeschooling. When I say he was studying the American Revolution, I mean he latched onto the fight for independence and devoured anything related to it.
We toured battlefields. We constructed paper mache powder horns and sewed pouches. I gave him plastic soldiers he used to populate a Fort Moultrie made out of Play-Doh and wooden block to attack the British. Of course, he did some writing, reading, and traditional work, but Blaise has ADHD.
He learns best while doing, which might mean he’s listening to a biography of Ben Franklin while standing on his head. His intense passion for the Revolutionary War made me think the musical Hamilton might be good for him. Little did I know exactly how much good the musical would do.
“Alexander Hamilton was George Washington’s right-hand man,” I explained to Blaise. “Then he helped win the Battle of Yorktown. Oh yeah, and he became the first Treasury Secretary and got killed in a duel with the Vice President.” That was all it took.
Before long, Blaise was rapping right along with Hamilton and Burr, Laurens and Lafayette. His favorite songs were “The Battle of Yorktown” and “The Ten Duel Commandments,” which he often requested. “Wanna maybe put on some Hamilton, Mama?” he’d ask when we got in the car. If I used it as workout music, it would bring him running and singing. I’d catch him singing the soundtrack under his breath while he played. He was hooked.
Then one day, he threw a fit in the car. He does that sometimes. As a function of his ADHD, there are times the world gets to be too much for him. Maybe he’s hungry. Maybe the day didn’t go as planned (schedules are very important to him). Maybe something happened we can’t even fathom, then again, maybe his brother touched him when he was thinking and that’s all it took. But the fits come and they are titanic: screaming, throwing himself around, possibly throwing things, yelling at his brothers. It’s hard to drive with small kids anyway, let alone small kids who are letting out bone-chilling shrieks.
“Put on Hamilton,” my husband told me through clenched teeth. “Buddy, we’re going to put on Hamilton, okay?” We turned on the soundtrack. The screaming stopped. The thrashing stopped. In a few minutes, we heard a tiny voice singing, “Two pints of Sam Adams but I’m working on three / Those redcoats don’t want it with me / Cos I will pop chick-a-pop / These cops til I’m free.” I picked up with him on the Lafayette part, and his voice (and garbled French) grew stronger. We sang for the rest of the trip, with occasional input from his brother and father. As he hopped out of the car, Blaise looked abashed. “I’m sorry I yelled,” he said.
And that’s how we learned Hamilton could soothe the savage beast. According to The New York Times, listening to music releases dopamine, the same neurotransmitter responsible for the pleasurable sensations. TIME suggests singing in a group (like our musical family car rides) releases endorphins and oxytocin that enhance “trust and bonding.” Basically, music hath the charms to soothe Blaise when he needs it most.
We’ve started playing the musical preemptively. If I’m at the beginning of a long run of errands, I pop over to the soundtrack. As soon as we get to town, I crank the stereo and roll down the windows. Blaise finds this hilarious because he gets the share his beloved musical with any and all passersby. I even use it to defuse tension. “There will be a reckoning if you spill my drink,” I warned in Target the other day.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“You know, ‘Your lieutenant / When there’s reckoning to be reckoned,’” I quote one of favorite songs.
He says Hamilton is fun. That it’s cool; that he really likes it. The fact that he can hang his Revolutionary War hat on it makes it more relatable than say, David Bowie. I know I can crank it on the stereo and calm him into a re-enactment of the Battle of Monmouth, thus forestalling a major 3 pm meltdown from a pharmacy trip, fast food run, and mammoth Target haul. He’s always in a better mood when we pull into the driveway blaring Hamilton and singing, than when we don’t.
Eventually, I’ll branch him out to other music and teach him to love something other than the Revolutionary War. But for right now, if Lin-Manuel Miranda can keep my 7-year-old happy and content, I’ll take it. Especially since I love blasting Hamilton, too.