May 25, 2018
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Justin Bieber clears a room

By Sarah Smiley

In our house, there is no better kid-repellent than the threat of Justin Bieber. You can literally clear a room by mentioning anything remotely related to the young singer: his hair, his music, even his initials. Just saying the word “Justin” (it needn’t have any affiliation) brings violent and extreme reactions, which is kind of unfortunate because the name “Dustin” sounds a lot like the “J word.”

It would not be enough to say that our boys don’t like Bieber, and I’m not even sure they’ve heard any of his songs start to finish. It is enough that “all the girls” like him.

Indeed, if I’ve ever listened to Justin Bieber myself, it has surely been an accident. I could not name you one song title. This concerns me, and not because I want to be a Bieber fan, but rather, I always thought I’d be an adult who stays in touch with the younger generation. I thought I would know who their “Michael Jackson” is, that I would stay on top of trends and fads.

Clearly I have not.

Justin Bieber isn’t the only young singer of which I’m only tangentially aware. I (kind of) know of Ke$ha because one day Lindell was singing, “Wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy.” Sometimes we call Lindell “Lin-Diddy,” so I thought he was making up a song about himself. Then, Kara, our 16-year-old baby sitter arrived and said, “Oh my gosh, is he singing ‘Tik Tok’?”

“No, he’s singing, ‘Wake up in the morning feeling like Lin-Diddy,” I said.

Kara smiled. “Um, right. ‘Tick Tock’ by Ke$ha.”

You can’t say I haven’t tried though. I know every lyric to the Wonder Pets theme song, and on more than one occasion I’ve caught myself whistling the Imperial March in the shower. But this says more about my 4-year-old’s television habits and my conflicted feelings about “Star Wars” than it does about anything else. I’m pretty sure that Darth Vadar has never been seen on the Grammy Awards red carpet with a caped turtle. Then again, I don’t watch the Grammys.

In any case, toddler cartoons and classic sagas from the 1970s don’t count as being in touch with today’s youth pop culture. I know that Princess Leia’s Carrie Fisher  is the new spokesperson for Jenny Craig, but somehow I don’t think that makes me “cool” either.

Therefore, the only thing I can contribute to the cultural conversation about the Justin Bieber phenomenon is the fact that my three boys don’t like him. Well, the two older ones don’t, at least. Like me, Lindell, 4, couldn’t pick Bieber out of a lineup, and what’s more, Lindell still thinks the singer’s name is Justin Beaver.

So Dustin (relax, boys, I didn’t say “Justin”) was treading in dangerous territory the other night when in the middle of a family dinner, he mentioned Bieber. Someone at the table had begun to hum. I think he was humming “Star Wars.” Soon, however, someone else at the table began humming. Singing and humming are not allowed at our family dinner table, which you might find interesting considering my column from several weeks ago about Lindell mooning me at dinner. The end of that story is that he will not moon me again. We have not been as consistent with discipline regarding singing and humming. That’s because what’s “right” and “wrong” in this case is less clear. Sometimes singing might be permissible (as in a blessing, for example), other times it is not (any other time that is not a blessing). This particular humming was not part of a blessing.

Dustin and I exchanged glances. Who would handle this one?

Dustin dropped his fork on his plate and feigned astonishment. “Wow, you guys sing so good, you could sing with Just Bieber,” he said smiling.

The humming stopped. More forks dropped on plates. Then all at once there was a mass exodus from the dinner table. Ford and Owen ran to their respective rooms screaming, “You’re so mean, Dad!” and “We do NOT sound like Justin Bieber!” Lindell trailed behind them. He was screaming, too, although I’m not sure he knew why. Bedroom doors slammed. And through the kitchen wall, Dustin and I heard more wailing and screaming. “He said we sound like Justin Bieber!”

“And we don’t LIKE Justin Beaver!”

Dustin and I finished our dinner in relative quiet. When you have three kids, so long as the screaming and crying is not being done in the same room, you call it “quiet.”

Afterward, we shared a dessert. It was between scoops of ice cream that Dustin said, “Well, that is one way to get a dinner alone.”

I laughed, but Dustin was serious: “I’m keeping Bieber in mind for the next time I want you all to myself.”

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at

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