Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tuneless Lullabies

There has always been music in my heart--pure, lovely music. It wells up inside of me until I can't take it any more and I have to sing. The emergent sound could charitably be called unfortunate. Growing up, my parents suffered my soulful caterwauling until they couldn't take it anymore, and then asked me to kindly shut the hell up.

When the Boyce babies came along, I knew it was my big chance to sing to my heart's content. A captive audience who didn't yet know how to tell Mom to stuff it? Perfect! Plus, no one would ever be cruel enough to tell a mother not to sing to her infant.

Not long after the first Boy Boyce was born, I had my big chance. Two a.m. feeding, and out I came to debut as prima donna of the rocking chair. I settled in with my arms full of soft, new perfection, love bursting from my pores. Now I could give my heart in song to someone who wouldn't care that the high notes disappeared, or that the lows were too raspy.  He would hear the love in my voice, and would love my singing in return. And so I began:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star...

It was a letdown. Frankly, that song just doesn't have a lot going for it. I tried again:

Bye, baby bunting,
Daddy's gone a'hunting...

I smiled sadly at my son. I felt like I'd failed him. There wasn't anything I could give him with these songs. I didn't feel anything for them.

Honey, can you tell if his eyes are closed?
I kept singing at night, but my heart wasn't in it anymore. My repertoire of lullabies was depleted within 10 minutes, and then, like a cd on repeat, I'd start over and sing the same handful of songs again. And again.



Until, one dark and colicky night, I had held that baby in my arms for hours. He drifted off in my grasp, only to jerk wide awake and resume wailing the instant I put him down. There's a wonderful defense mechanism that kicks in during times like these. A sort of benevolent serenity came over me. I was beyond the crying, beyond the ache between my shoulders. Really, I was just numb with exhaustion, but at that moment I felt like Mother. No, Mother. Capitalized. Italicized. For emphasis, on account of just how infinite was my well of patience for this tiny, squalling creature. I could comfort and lull this child to sleep. I would. I had it in me. I opened my mouth, and out came...

Words. Just words.

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engenderd is the flour...

Yes, what came pouring out of me was the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales in Middle English. Why? I don't know. But at that moment, when I absolutely knew I had it inside me to love and comfort and hold that infant as long as I had to, what I had to give him--the heart of my mothering--was words. They came easily after that. And they felt right.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time...

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits...

And on. Poem after poem. He fell soundly asleep long before I ran out of material.

Since then, I have continued to sing to my children at bedtime. We've settled on "You are my Sunshine" as a tune I can pull off without butchering, and words with a little more sentiment than astronomical bewilderment.

But in the dead of night, alone with each of my infants, the true lullabies of my heart emerged to swaddle my baby and me in the soothing, tuneless music of words.


  1. Awww! Your luve was like a red, red rose!

    What a sweet story.

    We sing to our kids a lot. U2 and They Might Be Giants are faves here <3

  2. I didn't sing much to my little babes. You couldn't hear anything over Z's screaming and S just went to sleep...

  3. True words indeed. Music inspires the heart and soul to soar. I'd love to sing my children to sleep one day, also. :)