On Lullabies

A recent Twitter thread in which I participated sprang from a new parent commenting on having to sing lullabies despite not knowing many. The new parent is a long-time friend with whom I’d discussed impending parenthood (and likely with not entirely welcome advice along the way, as I realize now, for which I apologize), one who’d shared with me excitement at becoming a parent, and the lullabies comment was posted publicly, so I thought I’d chime in on it. Doing so showed me a variety of versions of one particular lullaby that seems fairly consistently used–at least in its earlier verses–and prompted from me the comment that the lullabies my wife and I sing to our daughter go to strange places.

As I think on it more, I am more convinced of it. The original example, singing of a series of acquisitions starting from a mockingbird, finds its way to a Grecian urn that will be discarded if it does not ode; my wife is responsible for most of how the verses get there, although I admit to following up a few verses later with talk of a singing thrust that ought to beard. But my wife and I both hold advanced degrees in English–we fell in love over Beowulf, in fact–so that we would make slanted references to older verse and fairy tales could perhaps be expected. And I think that neither of us necessarily recalls the lullabies we were sung, either; my wife is the younger of two, and while I am the elder of two, it has been decades since my brother was young enough to take lullabies.

Making such a comment, though, reminds me that there were many years I fell asleep with music in my ears, a Walkman or a Discman slid under my pillow and headphones clasped about my head. It is for such reasons that songs like “The Pinnacle” and “Miracles out of Nowhere” remain in my mind as strongly as they do, and that my daughter’s been sung to sleep to the tune of “Lonely Wind” and “All the World” more than once. I imagine something similar informs my wife singing Beatles tunes and Simon and Garfunkel to Ms. 8 to ease her towards sleep. And I have to think that my brother, the musician, who looks forward to the birth of his son, will have even broader a selection for his coming child.

What it says about us that we pass on what we pass on is always worth consideration, of course, and I know that what my wife and I are giving to Ms. 8 shows our backgrounds and training–and, in my case, at least, both the delight in working with what I treat and the lingering bitterness of the times I have been thwarted in pursuing that work. I know that the latter is less than helpful, and I try to hide it from her (although I know she sees more clearly than to allow me to do so), but I worry also that the nerdiness embedded in most of the things I do will not only color or taint her perspectives on the world, but that it will lead her into pitfalls I faced–and I would have her avoid my mistakes, if it could be. And so even something as seemingly benign and commonplace as a lullaby sung to a child who may well never consciously remember hearing it has to be examined a bit more carefully–not only for figuring out how to proceed with the song itself, but also for figuring out how to guide that audience down the years to come.

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