By Jennifer Manske Fenske
It was night, one of the first nights we had our baby girl home. I paced the floors, rocking her in my arms, trying to comfort this tiny slip of a child. And then I had the idea to send her to sleep with a lullaby. A perfect idea! I opened my mouth to sing…and then quickly shut it. What to sing to our precious daughter?
It had been years since I sang a song out loud, just for the fun of it, to anyone other than the sympathetic upholstery of my car. Nope, I wasn’t in the habit of entertaining crowds, especially the demanding audience of a baby 3 days old. Still, I knew I needed to try. Singing might soothe the savage beast of a squalling infant. My mind raced for ideas.
A scrap of “Hickory Dickory Dock” came to me. I launched into it, then promptly forgot the words to the dramatic conclusion where the clock strikes one. Next, I fumbled for the “Alphabet Song.” How hard could that be? I’m reasonably well acquainted with the order of the letters.
But I got confused at the end. Was it “Now I know my ABCs/Next time won’t you sing with me?” Or, as my mind insisted, “Next time won’t you spell with me?” My next hit was “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” A classic! Who could screw this up? I think I mangled it fairly completely when I sang to my daughter, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star/How I wonder what you are/Up above the sky so bright/Like a diamond put to fl ight….” At this rate, my baby was going to get an incomplete education of great American folk tunes.
With a sigh of relief, I launched confi dently into “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” I even substituted my daughter’s name for Bonnie. But then, as I rocked my sweet eight-pound baby girl, tears leapt to my eyes. The songwriter must have been so sad! There was his love, all the way across the ocean and he yearned for her so plaintively. I held back sobs. Score one for postpartum hormones. I settled on “Camptown Races,” which I sang jollily. “The Camptown ladies sing this song, doo-da, doo-da/Camptown racetrack’s five miles long….”
This was going well. My voice must have wavered as I tried to recall the words because I heard my husband’s sleepy voice from the bedroom helping me out: “I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag/Somebody bet on the bay.” Gambling? I’m singing to my newborn about horse wagering? What kind of mother was I going to be? A fairly accomplished one, I figured out with a glance to the babe in my arms. She was asleep, slumbering off to Dreamland on the wings of mixedup lyrics and the love of a mother with a song in her heart.
A new mom learns that a lullaby’s value doesn’t necessarily lie in the lyrics.