The Sounds of Life


“There was a dream, and one day I could see it. Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it.” — Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise  ~The Avett Brothers

The carefree singing drifting from my six-year-old’s bedroom forced a pause in an otherwise frantic afternoon. I stopped outside Finn’s door and watched as he crashed his Matchbox cars into what had been a carefully constructed Lego village.

I instantly recognized the familiar tune from one of my favorite bands, and smiled as I was mentally teleported back to last summer when bluegrass, classic rock, blues and more played on repeat, while the boys and I went about our days.

“Whatcha singing?”

I stuck my head in the door.

“Oh…just that song I like with all the buildings.”

My house would be messier than it already is if it weren’t for music. I can plow through onerous household tasks better with uplifting, rhythmic background tunes, but in my rush to put our house back together after the holidays, I had completely forgotten this necessity.

I needed something to take my mind off the drudgery of chores when I’d much rather hang out with my kids on their last day of winter break. I was anxiously dreading the unavoidable return to the frenetic pace of harried mornings.

Structure and routine don’t come easy for anyone in our household, and as the parent who’s more of a morning person than the other, the coercing and badgering required to get my first and second-graders in their classroom seats by 7:40 falls mostly on me.

Finn is a pro at living in the moment.

Like most kids his age, his interests are vast. He’s an old soul, deep and mysteriously pensive. What I’d give to be able to peek into his brain.

A family friend, who could easily fit the description of a gracefully aging hippy, calls him the indigo kid. A quick search brings up numerous descriptive words for indigo children: empathetic, curious, strong-willed,  off-beat, purposeful, uniquely spiritual from early childhood, unconventional. You get the idea.

The description is fitting for both of my children, but it nails Finn.

His musical tastes and songs he chooses, concepts and all, reflect a wisdom beyond his years.

I have probably heard Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise a hundred times, but Finn’s obsession with the song and his near-constant demands to play it last summer likely prevented me from truly appreciating what an amazing song it is.

As I focused on the lyrics for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice how fitting it is — for Finn and for me.

Finn is unconventional, and first grade has been a difficult transition. Sight words and math worksheets seem pointless to him. We’re also having to rule out some learning problems. His interests are mature and he’s intelligent, but he struggles with concepts that many  consider basic.

As a parent, it’s hard to know the best approach. On one hand I sense a lot of his academic issues are developmental and will work themselves out as he matures, but I worry that not looking deeper now might prevent him from getting necessary help. I don’t want him to become disenchanted with learning and frustrated with himself in the process. I’m also not sure that a traditional public school is the best fit for him longterm, even though we all love their school.

I know that a lot of my return-from-break anxiety stems from my concerns about how to help Finn.

The Avett Brothers’ music sounds like life: the joy, the celebration, mixed with a little pain and heaviness. It goes there but doesn’t consume you. It touches on the hard, reminding us that it exists, but the overall vibe is happy and celebratory.

That IS  life, and there’s something beautiful in that dichotomy, and the Avett Brothers capture that — an authenticity that’s uncommon in most mainstream music today.

Life isn’t all hoorah and hoopla and roses and sunflowers, representing only the happy moments.

It’s twigs and mud and death and sorrow and sickness and pain.

It’s watching your kid struggle for months to read and wanting more than anything to take away his frustration.

It’s witnessing him reading his favorite book for the first time all by himself and the unbridled joy on his face as he screams, “I FINALLY did it!!! I knew ALL the words!”

Life encompasses ALL of it — the jubilation as well as the sorrow.

The Avett Brothers’ music captures that.

It speaks to a six-year-old boy who loves cranes and dump trucks and all things relating to ships, as well as his grown up mother who’s still finding her way.



The lyrics are simple but powerful.


“There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light, and I’m frightened by those who don’t see it.”


I snapped this shot of Finn, mesmerized by “his” song.

Version 4

The intro had a magnetic pull, forcing him to drop his car and follow the the sound.

It moved me in a similar way, and I had to stop and absorb it.

All of it.

As the song played, a peaceful wave washed over me, and I sensed intuitively that Finn would be okay.

He’s unique and doesn’t dig school. How many wildly successful people have shared that trait?

That gift.

My hope for my children is that they love themselves, embrace their dreams, and stay open to possibilities.

My hope, as their mom, is that I’m able to accept and support them on their journey… even on difficult days.


“If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected.”

“Decide what to be and go be it.”

Finn’s song has become my song.

The description on The Avett Brothers website sums up their music perfectly:

“If you put your ear to the street, you can hear the rumble of the world in motion; people going to and from work, to school, to the grocery store. You may even hear the whisper of their living rooms, their conversation, their complaints, and if you’re lucky, their laughter. Anywhere in the [world], you’ll hear something different, something special, something you recognize but haven’t heard in a long time. It is the sound of a real celebration.”


What about you? Tell us about the music that moves you.


(words and photographs: Jenni Dowling)



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