Can a not-mom get teenagers singing?

I’m in big trouble, I thought. As part of my job as a church music minister, I was asked to lead “campfire songs” at a bonfire party Sunday night for the teens in the religious education program. “You know, campfire songs,” I was told. But I had no idea what to sing. Not only had I not gone to camp as a kid or as a parent chaperoning kids, but I had no idea what songs young people sing today.

I had only a brief mothering experience back in the ‘90s when my stepson and his friends wandered in and out of the house. I visit the middle school only for the annual quilt show and haven’t been in the high school since I stopped teaching adult ed writing classes there a decade ago. I knew I couldn’t do the little-kid songs I sang with the kindergarten-fifth-grade group, and they probably wouldn’t like the old folk songs I did with my grandparent-age friends. They’d be looking for something off the radio, and I’d be offering “Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley.” Did they know “This Land is Your Land” or “Funiculi Funicula”?

If I had teenagers in my life—they’d probably be my grandchildren at this point—maybe I’d know what songs they sing. I might even have taught the songs to them. But childless as I am, I was screwed.

Wrong. It was a blast. (Do kids still say that?) It wasn’t quite a bonfire. It rained, unexpected on the Oregon coast in August, so we met indoors in one of the church classrooms, sitting in a circle. I had brought my Rise Up Singing songbook with a long list of possibilities to try, and one of the tech-savvy teachers projected the words on a screen. It turned out this group, all boys, was willing to try anything. I may not have known them, but they remembered me singing to them when they were little. They knew some of the songs, but sang along even with the ones they didn’t know. They were horrified at the violence in “The Cat Came Back,” slogged through all 12 verses of “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” slaughtered “La Bamba,” and cracked up at “Drunken Sailor.” We simmered down with “Prayer of St. Francis.” The time flew by. My face hurt from laughing. I never once thought about being childless.

After the music, it was time to make S’mores on a barbecue grill under the overhang outside the building. The boys walked around with flaming marshmallows and competed to make the tallest, most outrageous combination of graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows. Did I need to chide them about fire or the mess they were making? Heck, no. I’m not their mom.

They don’t know I don’t have kids, nor do they care. I’m just Sue, who does music. I don’t mind that at all. In fact, I want to do more of this.

I share this story because I know we all worry about what we’re missing, how we might have regrets, and how we might end up being clueless around young people. Don’t worry. It will work out if you let it.


We have gotten many great comments on last week’s post in response to Heavy Heart’s struggle to decide whether or not to leave her husband after he changed his mind about having children. Please take a look and join the discussion. This is essence of what being childless by marriage is all about.

4 thoughts on “Can a not-mom get teenagers singing?

  1. What a great story! It proves that there are so many ways that we as childless people can still enjoy life and be a part of the community. So happy you were able to enjoy such a positive experience and will seek out more like it.


  2. SNAP!

    I work on kids’ camps in the summer. We have a campfire but don’t usually do songs with the older kids. This year we had 11 to 13-year-olds, so I gave it a go. I didn’t think they’d go for it but they did. We sang The Pirate song They chose the second line, so we had such delights as “When I was 3, I had a pee, the day I went to sea”.

    Lots of fun, I’ve been singing it ever since. And now this post has made me look it up on YouTube, so now I’ve got the Earworm all over again. Thanks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s