Earworm Infestation

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer

We had to come to a compromise. She loves her music, oh yes she does. I like many of her choices, and was more than happy to share my speakers with her (though I confess, there were moments we had to negotiate the volume).teenagers

It’s just…I need more than twelve or thirteen bars of a song.

My entire life has been plagued by the earworm. Often, it’s not the words that nibble away, resonating in my brain from the moment I wake until I go to bed. It’s a rhythm, a motif, a catchy little something that become an endless background loop, regardless of what I’m doing. If it does happen to be the words, it’s often the wrong ones, because I have a hard time distinguishing the right ones unless I read them first. Even so, I don’t get all of them so the sentence doesn’t reach a logical conclusion, and my subconscious tries to make it work.

A particularly stubborn earworm greets me when I wake, even if it’s for a moment in the middle of the night. It whispers to me at odd times during the day. It snickers when I cook dinner. It chortles when I sweep the floor. Just when I think I get rid of it–a process that could take three days–someone hums a bar or two for a joke that only the earworm gets as it gleefully begins to niggle anew.

One of my niece’s songs was such a worm. No, don’t ask me to tell you what it was. At the moment, it’s blissfully snoring in its own little memory box, and I’m content to leave it there (though it certainly will have woken by the time this post is finished). She would say, “Auntie, listen to this,” and play the twelve or thirteen bars before moving on to “What do you think about this?” and present a vastly different twelve more bars. Duelling worms, just what I always dreamed of.

Hence the compromise. I wanted to hear her music, but she needed to complete the song. She promptly created a playlist. Sometimes, I’d take over the speakers with my music–an attempt to soothe the earworms to slumber with Bach and Mendelssohn. This helped me but didn’t do much for her. She’d leave the room to work on her ever-changing hair, moving to a confined space where her subdued music would politely compete with mine. And win, every single time.

Our visit was fantastic. Even so, there were brief glimpses of how we might clash were we to spend more than a week at a time together. There was a moment, for example, when I’d asked her to help with dishes and she didn’t do it the way I wished. I made a request, a simple one I thought. She complied with the dreaded eye roll, teen speak for “Like that’s the thing that matters,” right?DSC01918

In that moment, I realized my potential to cocoon an earworm for her. How easy it is to create such an environment without meaning to–and with no comprehension of how difficult it will be for the person to prevent a simple comment from multiplying into an unmanageable, ugly, wriggly, mess.

My dad, for example, is not very good at remembering birthdays. Ten years ago, he surprised me with a birthday phone call, that Mom had probably insisted he make. Dad teased me by singing, “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear fatso…” and things rapidly deteriorated from there.

Hatching earworms takes no time at all. Eradicating them can take a lifetime.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8


22 thoughts on “Earworm Infestation

  1. Oh, the earworm creeps in so innocently. My husband is a whistler, and I often find my brain humming his tunes later. When he comes through whistling once more, I’m shocked we’re on the same song, not realizing he instigated the whole thing earlier.

    I enjoyed hearing about your niece. She looks like she’s spunky and full of life.

    1. She is definitely spunky and full of life, and I enjoyed her visit immensely.

      Isn’t it interesting how our brains pick up on these “little” things? When it’s something like your husband’s songs, it can be so charming. But other times, not so much.

  2. I haven’t thought of earworms that way before. But I also find myself in constant companionship with them. And now I must be more cognizant of the earworms I unwittingly may give to others – and make sure I am leaving the ones I mean to give!

    1. It’s easy to leave the wrong message behind–I’ve been guilty of it so many times when someone tells me they are sure I meant/said something completely different from the message I thought I left.

  3. My problem earworm is unidentified earworms. And the wriggle away before identification can be completed. Whether identified or unidentified they are worrisome to get rid of.

    1. mmm, yes. The elusive ones that get away, although I don’t mind that. I mind the ones who refuse to go.

  4. This makes me think of so many things such as the impact and energy of teenagers,how much good there is in them if we will only slow down and listen. I love the comment about the ever changing hair which I think is probably like my son’s every changing room–a barometer of moods an potentials. Glad she was getting good earworms from her auntie and sopping up loads of love and respect from you.

    1. I hope she felt loads of love and respect. She is a fascinating individual, and it made me envy some of you who have been able to spend such time with teenagers every day. And her hair? It was great, and bold, and brave. No less than 7 very distinct styles in the ten days she was here. I was never so expressive.

  5. She’s aDORable, and I love her boldness! I love the fair-trading of earworms you engaged in! (My go-to weapon is a rousing chorus of “It’s a Small World after all…!” sung at the top of my voice! Haha! Diabolical, I know. It’s all the teacher training. 😉 ) For the record, unless the song is one I hate, in which case thirteen bars is wayyyyyy too much, I utterly agree with, support, and approve your insistence on playing the whole song!

    Even better, though, I would hazard to guess that she got more than classical earworms. I suspect she got some heartworms, too (the good kind).

    1. Sigh. I’m now dealing with getting rid of that small world which has been my constant companion since this morning. Thanks for that. I love the play on words with the heartworms–and yes, I hope she got some of those too. I know I did.

  6. I constantly have Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (or some variation of nurse rhyme) in the back of my mind or in my living room. It’s precious, but not all the time. I definitely know the desire for some quiet. But I’m so glad your niece felt herself enough to want to share that with you. 🙂 I love her modeling shots!

    1. Surprisingly, I can lose Twinkle Twinkle a little faster than the Small World that Roslynn gifted me with. I’m still working to eradicate that one. 🙂 Yes, we had a great time and she is very photogenic (though she didn’t always realize she was modeling for me).

  7. Delightful post and like other readers love her boldness and can sense how much you care and respect her. Especially liked, “And win, every single time.”

    1. Yes, in spite of me, she did win every time. She did so in such a respectful way, however, that I could not mind. I think of that now, in the quiet of the house. I miss her.

  8. I read this a few days ago and had to come back and read again. The idea of inadvertent earworms that persist and can color a relationship or an experience is so true – my life with teenage daughter! This piece, like others of your I’ve read, gives me pause to consider . . . you do a great job taking me somewhere unexpected!

    1. You are blessed to have a teenage daughter! I am grateful to have a wise and interesting teenage niece (as well as a grownup, wise and mature one who mothers the next group of kids to fascinate me). Thanks for stopping by.

  9. I was a little nervous about the picture of a bird and an earworm together in the title but was gratified and reassured the one did not involve the other. How wonderful to have a niece willing to share her music with you, to get that you could inadvertently “cocoon an earworm for her”, and that it’s entirely preventable to avoid producing a “wriggly mass” by being aware of your response to her.
    I wonder how she feels about being featured in your blog? Photos and all! She is lucky to have a self-aware auntie.

    1. She approved all the photos and shared the post to her friends when it went live, sending me a sweet comment when she did so. I think she’s okay with it. If she hadn’t been though, we’d have negotiated some more.

  10. She looks so bright and full of life. And you are a cool aunt! Love how you recount episodes from your life with compassion and humour and then draw wider conclusions. Earworms – I have entire discographies playing in my head day and night.

    1. She is an amazing young woman, and I’m enthralled by her. I’m rather sorry that you have entire discographies of earworms though. That is nearly a perfect definition of Hades for me.

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