My definition of lullaby presupposes a woman’s voice, though I will allow for poetic license in lines such as “The rain made a lullaby sound on the roof,” which phrase I’m pretty sure stuck in my mind from reading The Maggie B. a hundred times. But some people must think a lullaby is anything boring enough to make a child flee in desperation to the Land of Nod. That is my conclusion after listening to a recording titled “Lullabies” in the car today.
Before I set off this morning for a long drive, I rummaged through the box of CD’s temporarily in storage during the remodel, and spied two collections of such songs, which made me think, “Why not brush up on your lullaby repertoire?” So I brought them along, and as I was listening to the Lifescapes CD I realized that it was for the first time.
When I had babies in the house, I never thought of playing a recording for them at bedtime. When I borrowed LP’s from the library or bought lullaby songbooks it was so that I might discover a new soothing melody to croon myself. For years B. and I would sit on the children’s beds or on the floor at night and sing to them for a long time as they drifted off.
I did know a grandma, long before I was a grandma myself, who played recorded music for her grandchildren in their beds when they came to visit, but at least it was of a woman singing sweetly–if maybe a little too sweetly for my taste. One young mother filled me with dismay, and pity for her children’s impressionable souls, when she complained that she couldn’t get her kids to settle down unless she played the “Christian rock” radio station at nap time.
My own children had their father and me to sing to them, or they had silence, or in the case of one baby, she got to the point where she groused at me when I stood by her crib singing, and when I gave up and left the room, she contentedly babbled herself to sleep.
Some favorite bedtime songs that come to mind, of the family collection, were: the Italian “Nina, Nana, Cocolo Della Mama,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “All the Pretty Little Horses,” “Summertime,” “Hush, Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word,” and many Psalms that had been put to folksy tunes by Jesus People. “Trot Along, My Little Pony” was a huge favorite. My most recent acquisition is “A La Na Nita Nana,” which may actually be a Christmas song, but I think babies don’t mind.
I didn’t pick up any new ideas from the Lifescapes anthology. There were many traditional lullabies that I already knew, but bereft of any lyrics, and with minimalist and s-l-o-w string renditions even on “Dance to Your Daddy.” I hit the skip button many times because I couldn’t stand the dragging sensation, kind of like being tranquilized by annoyingly tasteless sweets.
The last fifteen minutes of the CD is pretty much equally divided among non-tunes. Not rain-on-the-roof, but “Running Water,” “Womb,” and “Heartbeat.” Running water I didn’t think was a good idea. It immediately made me think of the bathtub overflowing, and I wondered how was a child eventually to learn to be alarmed at the sound of water trickling in a house? Womb sounds were not so boring, but reminded me of a recording of humpback whales we once had, and whose songs I found more lovely. “Heartbeat” was, of course, tedious to an old woman, whereas it might be comforting to an infant. Perhaps the producers put five minutes of an adult-speed beating heart at the very end, thinking that if nothing else had lulled the baby to sleep after the first tiresome hour, that fundamental lub-dub might do the trick.
It’s likely that these sounds would calm a child, especially if the same recording were played every night. That could be true, though, of many sounds coming from a machine. It seems right to give my children what I myself like and what seems most wholesome. In a real live human voice you can be embraced and loved even after you are in your cradle. If the babies could tell us, I think that is what they would say.