finding his song

I finally found his song. It only took a year.

When he was first born, in that bleary, dreamlike blur of the early weeks, I sang anything – show tunes, rock songs, church hymns, folk ballads. I had all the time in the world to sing, awake with him through the wee hours. His tiny new ears didn’t care how tired my voice rasped. Sometimes I sang just to keep myself from nodding off.

When he crawled into the alert baby months, needing more of a routine to quiet down for bed, my songs grew shorter, more repetitious. One verse for the diaper change, one for the rocking waltz towards the glider, one for the last gentle lift to crib. I didn’t pay much attention to song selection; we’d go through weeks of one, then I’d wander into another. The effect was nil: he hated the changing table, preferred jostling en route to rocker, and slipped so quickly into sleep after nursing that it didn’t seem to matter whether I sang or not.

Force of habit kept me going, but I figured he simply wasn’t a snuggler.

Then a few weeks ago, as we wrestled through our nightly post-nurse, pre-bed squirmy-baby-wants-off-lap, I paused in my mindless humming of the same song I always sang his brother. I started singing something new. A song deep from my own childhood, echoes of my parents tucking blanket under chin, kissing forehead, turning off lights. A song that thousands of babies have been sung before, but a song I’d never sang to either of mine.

He stopped squirming. He stared up at me with round owling baby eyes, inquisitive even in the evening dark of his room. His body relaxed into mine. His eyelids lowered. And he let me sing.

It’s his song, of course. I’d just never found it before.

Bedtime is different now, since our discovery. We both want to be there, in the lilting lullaby and the rocking chair rhythm. He lets me sing two, even three rounds before he starts to stretch towards crib. I kiss him softly, keep singing as I turn to go. What a wonder to find the song that was in both our bones all along.

Lullabies are overlooked in importance. Our first encounter with word and rhyme, rhythm and song, comes from the lips of those closest to us when we first enter the world. The simple songs are the most ancient, wordless hums from our ancestors. Some are universal, others are particular to the era or music or poets our parents loved. We hear them hundreds of times before our brains even understand what language or music means. But they can set our pulse to music.

My bones are strong with song. Many nights when I was young, I had four different lullabies sung to me. With two older siblings and two parents making the rounds of rooms to tuck us in at night, I often heard an alto, a soprano, a baritone and an almost-tenor before my eyelids shut. Like any child resisting bedtime, I begged for endless rounds of infinite songs. But my special ones were always the same, always particular to the singer.

My mother crooned “A Bushel and A Peck” from Guys & Dolls (though I thought she wrote it just for me). My father drummed his fingers to “Lullaby and Goodnight.” My sister sang “Edelweiss” in a voice sweeter than Julie Andrews. And my brother grinningly sang “Wee Willie Winkie” with our own lyrics, full of silly jokes. I delighted in each lullaby and its singer. For a few precious minutes every night, at the end of a noisy day in a big family, I had each of them to myself. I knew those moments were to be savored.

But my own songs weren’t the only ones I loved. For years my younger brothers shared a bedroom next door to my own, and as our roving band of singers made the bedtime rounds, I listened to my brothers’ lullabies, too. I can still hear my dad bellowing through the open doorway – “Camptown Races” rollicking for one brother, Ireland’s anthem “The Soldier’s Song” proudly proclaimed for another.

Why did it take me so long to remember the truth I learned in my own childhood, night after night? That the beauty of each child is reflected in the unique songs we sing them. That what works for one will not always work for another. That we each need our own lullaby.

Each of my boys has their own song from me now. It took us awhile to get here; I’ll likely have to relearn this lesson a thousand times as I keep going – to delight in their differences, not to force them into another’s mold. But the way that sweet baby relaxes his busy limbs and breathes deep into my lap as we rock and I sing, the way his brother faithfully requests the same lullaby every night, even when I try to slip in something new, they remind me what they need from me the most – to be a mother to each of them in their own way.

With their own rhythm, their own words, their own song.

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  1. Kelly on 28 August 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Laura, your writing made me remember the songs my Momma used to sing to me when I was a little girl. Thank you.

  2. Roxane B. Salonen on 27 August 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Beautiful! As someone who has always enjoyed singing, I looked forward to the day I could sing to my children. I will never forget when, while practicing for a song to be sung in a wedding, my young tot put his hands over his ears and said, “Stop!” 🙂 To this day, he is not one to appreciate my gifts — or to openly admit it, at least. I wonder if someday he will wish I sang more often and louder. Despite his resistance to my song, I continued to sing through early mothering and don’t regret a minute of it. I loved this post and the reminder that each child is unique. I have wept at the words of some songs that remind me of life with young children. “Masterpiece” is one I’m thinking of right now. I had to learn it for an event and as I practiced, I would cry at certain parts, it resonated so. 🙂 Again, thank you for beautiful words about a profound aspect of mothering and connection.

    • mothering spirit on 28 August 2012 at 8:14 am

      I don’t know that song, Roxane – I’ll have to check it out! And yes, singing is a powerful connection. I think it’s one of the practices that helps me so much in these early mothering years; it calms everyone down, self included, and pulls us out of the moment towards something more beautiful.

      • roxanesalonen on 28 August 2012 at 9:42 am

        Here are the lyrics, and you can find videos on Youtube. 🙂

        Before you had a name or opened up your eyes
        Or anyone could recognize your face.
        You were being formed so delicate in size
        Secluded in God’s safe and hidden place.

        With your little tiny hands and little tiny feet
        And little eyes that shimmer like a pearl
        He breathed in you a song and to make it all complete
        He brought the masterpiece into the world.

        You are a masterpiece
        A new creation He has formed
        And you’re as soft and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
        And I’m so glad that God has given you to me
        Little Lamb of God, you are a masterpiece.

        And now you’re growing up your life’s a miracle
        Everytime I look at you I stand in awe
        Because I see in you a reflection of me
        And you’ll always be my little lamb from God

        And as your life goes on each day
        How I pray that you will see
        Just how much your life has meant to me.

        And I’m so proud of you
        What else is there to say?
        Just be the masterpiece He created you to be.

  3. rootstoblossom on 27 August 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I sang to all my babies, and still do when allowed by them, usually only when they are sick or just extra cuddly. Such a sweet post and gave me warm fuzzy memories. Need to hold on to those moments, they’re all growing up on me.

    • mothering spirit on 28 August 2012 at 8:12 am

      Thanks, rootstoblossom. Mine are still babies and yet I feel like they’re growing up on me, too…

  4. Lauren on 27 August 2012 at 10:46 am

    My mother used to sing me Amazing Grace every night. The gentle lilt of her voice, the softness of her fingernails as she tickled my back–sacred memories. I know there are theologians and liturgists who can’t stand this song, but it will always be a favorite. I believe firmly in the “grace that’s brought me safe thus far and [that] grace will lead me home.”

    When I used to babysit, I frequently relied on Amazing Grace to get the baby girl I took care of to sleep. We’d wander the house as she cried for her mama, and I’d sing that, and You Are My Sunshine, and I Love You So Much, and Scarlet Ribbons, and The Servant Song, and Mystery by the Indigo Girls. Again, sacred memories.

    • mothering spirit on 28 August 2012 at 8:11 am

      Lauren – lump in throat. I still love “Amazing Grace,” too, no matter what. Pretty much can’t sing the verse about “when we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun.” Beautiful images of your mom singing to you, and you singing in turn. Sacred memories indeed.

  5. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn on 27 August 2012 at 5:07 am

    Mmmmm – so lovely, beautiful. The lullabies that are in our very bones, I love this thought, it reminds me of how incarnation and grace.

    And when I was little, I thought that my mother was the creator of the bushel and peck song as well!

    • mothering spirit on 27 August 2012 at 7:37 am

      Incarnation and grace – yes! Well said.
      And I love that we share that song! I tried to sing it to my oldest for a while, but I think I have to save it for a daughter…it reminds me too much of the mother-daughter bond. Doesn’t work quite right for me otherwise. Songs sometimes get set that way, too.

  6. HomemadeMother on 26 August 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Love this post! I had a similar experience just the other day with Mack. I held him close and sang “Feed The Birds” from Mary Poppins. He cannot get enough of it. Whenever he wants to chill out he climbs on my lap and asks for the “Toppins” song 🙂

    Another bedtime song I always sing comes from Notre Dame. In dorm mass in Badin we’d sing “peace I leave with you my friend, my friend” in rounds and I always LOVED it. I now sing it to my babies every night, and they usually sing along, too. Its a special bedtime ritual, thanks to Our Lady.

    • mothering spirit on 27 August 2012 at 7:35 am

      Ooo two more songs to add to the repertoire! 🙂 We used to sing that same “Peace I Leave” in Walsh, and I never thought to sing it to the kiddos – what a great idea!

      • Liz on 29 August 2012 at 1:46 pm

        I always sing Peace I Leave with you to the kids. And the fight song… and the alma mater…. and the Here Come the Irish song… and I play Rudy music… and they love it all..:-)

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