Few things make me sentimental anymore. Nearly all those that do involve the children I love. Seems reasonable, I think, as I approach fifty that I have filtered out the things that shouldn’t matter. Strong memories are funny things, induced by any number of powerful sensations. Perhaps you pass a table at a restaurant where you perceive a hint of a perfume worn by your favorite teacher or a former lover. Or perhaps, God forbid, as a child you were burned by bacon grease, causing you to forever hate that salty smell. But strong memories can keep us anchored to love-rich moments when our hearts are so filled that we feel they may burst. For me, many of those moments have been experienced while singing lullabies.
I can actually sing, so singing lullabies to the children I’ve loved began as an easy tool in getting them to sleep. It wasn’t too long, though, before it became a tradition for us. When they were very young, I lived near my Godkids’ and their father traveled a lot. So, not only did I get to share a great deal of time with my dear friend, I had the privilege of singing to sleep two children I adored. They’re grown now, and it’s been many years since I sang their four favorite songs, listening to them breathe quietly as sleep made heavy their big brown eyes. They were both mostly eyes at that age, with thick lashes and flawless skin. “Tia, one more, please,” the eldest would ask. “Which one, baby?” I’d reply, and they would always pick one of the four. They weren’t typical lullabies. Sarah MacLachlan’s In the Arms of the Angels, a song with a truly haunting melody and a subject far removed from the peace of a child’s slumber. Time to Say Goodbye (Sartori/Quarantotto), Over the Rainbow (Arlen/Harburg), Cielito Lindo (Mendoza).They were songs I knew and I could sing in the quiet way that calmed.
Eventually, they outgrew the lullabies. The habit of remembering the words eventually fell away, but the memories didn’t. Years later, I had tried to sing to my own toddler, but he asked me to stop. I was momentarily crushed, but I got over it. Then, about a year and a half ago, he asked me to sing for him one night as he settled into bed. It had been years since I sang the songs that had become my near-nightly routine, but one had always stuck because my grandmother and father sang it to me. So, I began with that. Each night since, as he cuddles with his “stuffies,” thumb in his mouth, I sing Cielito Lindo, caressing his little head and kissing him in between verses.
One night, as I sang the first few words, he began to caress my cheek and smile at me. My heart swelled as my child looked sweetly into my eyes and said, “Mommy, you see how annoying it is?” He and I both laughed big and loud, and then he explained, “Mommy, rubbing my head is too much. Just sing.” It is a memory that is forever burned in my brain, not just because it was one of my more comical parenting moments, but because it was at that moment that I realized that he was a confident, happy child. I still occasionally sneak a caress and a kiss.
The one song eventually became two, and now he’s asked for one more. He could ask for ten, and I’d learn them all. One of my favorites has always been Billy Joel’s Lullabye so I’ve resolved to learn it for him. There is one line in the song that describes what it’s like to look at your child and think that nothing in the universe is as precious as that baby.
“The water’s dark
And deep inside this ancient heart
You’ll always be a part of me”
My Godkids are grown and heading off to college, but they still talk about those quiet nights when I sang them to sleep. They remember the songs and the conversations. My son will, too, and as the song says,
“Someday we’ll all be gone
But lullabyes go on and on…
They never die
That’s how you