February 21, 2013

Good Night, You Moonlight Ladies

Aunt Something Funny and I playing bedtime- circa 1986
It's hard to know just when we start forming truly permanent memories.

My earliest memory is, I believe, from when I was 16 months old. It's of an eye exam, I think  I can remember being strapped to a big blue table, and crying for my mother. My mother's face is young, her glasses enormous, and she seems very, very far away. She's not speaking to me, and she's not crying, but she's looking at me.

I have quite a few memories of life starting about a year later. Birthday parties, games with my sisters, babysitters, my father carrying me up to my attic bedroom. I remember watching my parents' friends paint the shed in psychedelic colors, the word "Peace" emblazoned in bold, tacky letters.

I'm sure Poppa wil LOVE that I posted this
I remember a small black and white television playing clips of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.

But the thing I remember the most, the consistent, daily occurrences of my life when I was SI and DD's age, is my father singing to me.

Every night, he sat in the room that Aunt Something Funny and I shared, and sang us lullabyes. I remember laying in bed with my eyes closed and listening. I remember laying in Aunt Something Funny's bed (sometimes she was frightened of the top bunk) and staring at her poster of kittens in a basket, listening. I remember laying in the red tent I liked to have set up in my bed, listening.

I remember peeking at him from the top bunk especially, He is also young, his hair and glasses both big, his legs folded around each other. He looks like my father, but not as he is now. He's lithe and young, his voice maybe just a little clearer than now. In the dark, I don't know what color his t-shirt is, but he looks comfortable. Peaceful. The sight of him makes me feel happy, sleepy, and safe.

My daddy, singing songs.

I remember murmuring the names of the songs I wanted next, barely audible. Half asleep. He must have known exactly which songs I would want. No doubt they were always the same songs.

I remember being several years older. Playing with my stuffed animals on my bed in the room that Aunt Genocide and I shared in our next house. I sang the same songs to my stuffed animals.

I remember being even older. Practically a teenager. I remember trying to look cool and hide my shock when I learned that the lullabyes I had known my entire life, that seemed etched into my soul, were essentially the Best Of James Taylor. Hearing him sing those songs- his own songs- sounds disjointed and wrong to me.

Everyone told me to sleep while I could. Yeah right.
I remember my second night as a mother, laying in a hospital bed, with my two, tiny babies on my lap, propped up against a pillow. I remember staring at their tiny, sleeping faces, and being unable to sleep. Instead, I stayed up until 5am, singing them those lullabyes. The first time I sang lullabyes for my children. I will never forget it.

They're the same lullabyes I still sing.

Not all of them are the songs I listened to in my earliest memories. I sing songs from my choir days, I sing folk songs that my father never sang me, I sing Elliott Smith and Jewel and Sarah McLaughlin. A few Disney songs that didn't exist back then. A few that did. I sing a song or two from my mother's repertoire as well, But I also still sing the James Taylor songs.

And when Poppa is here, he takes his seat in the darkened room where two little girls lay, not sleeping, and sings them the same songs he sang to me.

I always knew I would be a mom. Never did I know that more than when my father was singing me lullabyes. There was something so magical about that time, I couldn't imagine there was more to adulthood that sitting in the dark, singing your children to sleep.

SI and DD playing bedtime
Now I know there is, there's much more to it. But there's nothing that makes me feel more like the grown-up I always wanted to be than sitting in the dark, singing them the same songs. Over and over and over.

Now, my children sing those songs themselves. In eerie, tiny little voices over the monitor, I hear them singing to their toys after they're supposed to be asleep.

Part of me is astounded to be part of this creation of history, this creation of tradition. Could James Taylor have known when he wrote his songs that there would be generations of families, singing them to their children as lullabyes, in their own voices?  Will my grandchildren lay in the dark, listening to the same songs that my father sang to me?

I hope so. I hope that my children feel the same closeness and love for me as I sing to them that I felt for my parents. I hope they feel as safe, as certain that all is right in the world.

I hope their children feel that as well.

These are the moments in which I feel the need to weep for my children. For their childhood that is flying past me at breakneck speeds. For every night that I'm too tired or too busy to sing every song they know.

RH, sleeping peacefully
I remember sitting in a rocking chair in my twins' darkened room, seeing my reflection in the mirror. I am singing the same songs my father sang to me, as I rock in that chair, draped in sleeping toddlers.

I remember sitting in a different rocking chair in RH's darkened room, staring at her owl mobile as I crane my neck around the bulk of her chubby head, singing the same songs as her breathing quiets and her fingers relax in their death grip on my hair.

I feel like I've always had these memories. That since my earliest childhood, listening to my father sing, they've been lying dormant. Waiting to happen.

I feel supremely blessed, living a charmed life. A life of love and of quiet music, murmured requests in the dark, peaceful sighs from sleepy children.

In these dark, musical moments, I have everything I ever wanted out of life.

Do you sing to your kids? What songs did you grow up with?


  1. I love these thoughts. I have picked a special song that I've kind of dedicated to each of my kids as their lullaby.

  2. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing something so special :)

  3. So sweet! It is so odd that we never know what will stick and what will be forgotten.

  4. Thank you for this.

    (I sang some Beatles songs too, you know.)

  5. Love this, it's just beautiful.



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