The Joy of “Bopping”

When I was a kid, I had a habit of rocking my head (and often upper torso) back and forth. I did this constantly, primarily when seated (in the car, for example, or later, on the school bus). My parents called it “bopping”, and throughout my childhood the perceptions around it changed from viewing it as a funny idiosyncrasy to viewing it as a bad habit.

In some ways, bopping really was a bad habit, especially since I had difficulty determining what was an appropriate venue for it. Otherwise positive Grade 1 report cards would be sent home with comments about my singing and “bopping” in class. I understand that in a classroom setting, my inability to sit still (and silently) at my desk was distracting, and probably made me a target for friendly teasing (though nothing serious or scarring).

My bopping was a very obvious, very continuous kind of fidgeting. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew I was a bopper. One of my parents’ friends even told us kids a story in which I saved the day with my bopping. I can see how it would become less cute as I grew older, like thumb sucking or baby talking. I also understand why parents of a “bopper” might be worried by it. A six-year-old rocking back and forth like a Chechen orphan with PTSD is just kind of weird, I guess, and no one wants their kid to be made fun of.

[Note: Now that I’m an adult, I’ve a sneaking suspicion bopping was one of those bad habits my folks really did love me for, the way you might love your dad for his lame jokes or your grandma for the outlandish things she says.]

I’ve heard a few theories that rocking motions (and singing aloud, something I often did while bopping) can release feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins and that children who “self-stimulate” by rocking may be suffering from serotonin imbalances. Cursory internet research has not provided any proof one way or another, and I don’t know if my childhood bopping was in response to any kind of chemical need. I do know that human beings are obviously soothed by rocking motions, hence rocking cradles, rocking chairs, hammocks, etc.

I think what no one really understood about bopping, and what I couldn’t articulate at the time, was that I wasn’t just rocking for the hell of it. I also don’t think bopping was a symptom of any sinister deficiency. The fact is, whether I was singing aloud or not, I was always bopping to the beat of music. Sometimes the music was on the radio, and then it made a little more sense to everyone else to see me boppin’ along. Often, though, the music was just a tune stuck in my head, but my drive to move with it was just as strong.

So that’s it. There was simply music with me always. I wasn’t “self-stimulating” or displaying a tic. I was dancing (inelegantly and repetitively). That’s it. Dancing. No need to worry about me, parents and teachers. In fact, if you don’t have so much music in your head you just have to bop along, it’s you I pity. Don’t try to shut down my one-girl party just ’cause you aren’t throwing your own inside.

Still, bopping has a time and a place (and an appropriate age) I guess, and eventually I did grow out of it. Sort of.

But you know what? The music never left. The rhythm never stopped. Catch me at a bus stop and you’ll see my right knee bobbing like crazy. Sometimes at work or on the bus I’ll wonder where a tapping sound is coming from and realize it’s my own foot. TC says that on a car ride I still do it a bit, to which I reply, well, yeah, ’cause there’s music on in the car! In addition, I often get pretty carsick, and as mentioned above, we all know a little bit of rocking soothes the soul. Really, I think my obsession with rhythm is just further proof TC and I are made for each other–I mean, he’s a drummer for goodness sakes!

Maybe you don’t buy the theory that I’m just dancing in an isolated part of my body. Maybe you think I do have a tic, or slight serotonin imbalance. Maybe I am “self-stimulating” when I fidget. To which I would reply, so what? Who cares? A grown woman taps her foot on the bus, maybe bops her head along to music sometimes? Completely harmless and none of your goddamn business. If I was using bopping (in my head, knee, or toe) to reach a state of chemical equilibrium, would that really be such a bad thing in light of the alternatives (i.e. drugs)?

I think not.

So bop on, my flower children and soul parents, bop on.

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