After reading Elissa Strauss’ recent post, The Best Lullabies Turn Out to Be Jewish, I got to thinking about the songs I sing to my daughter when she goes to bed.
Before my little girl was born, I set out on a mission to find non-traditional lullabies. I didn’t want to croon about bows breaking and cradles falling or trying to buy my daughter’s peace and quiet with diamond rings. And really… who’s buying their babies diamond rings? And that’s the consolation prize only if the mocking bird doesn’t sing? Sheesh.
Anyway, I wanted to sing songs that meant something to me. See, my family instilled a love of music in me and I want to do the same for my daughter.
My mom always sang non-traditional lullabies from Peter, Paul and Mary’s “500 Miles” to “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.
Plus, my parents love classic rock and while my peers were trying to snag tickets to see NKOTB, I was far more interested in seeing Billy Joel and Elton John’s Face-to-Face tour. Heck, my first concert was at the NY state fair: Captain and Tennille during the day and Crosby, Stills and Nash at night. The most recent concerts I saw were The Police and Eric Clapton with Steve Winwood.
Yeah, I was definitely born at the wrong time.
So, when I was thinking of songs to sing to the baby baking in my belly, it seemed only natural that I would want songs that I actually liked listening to and that could be special for my daughter and myself.
When my daughter was born, I tried “Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina… you know the one… “And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey…” But in my deliriously exhausted, “Holy crap, I have a BABY!” state, it was a bit tough to remember to inject “daughter” when the lyric was “son” and I didn’t want her to grow up with a complex. Though I do still sing the chorus to her.
I’ve always loved the musical movie, “Pete’s Dragon.” So what better place to pull a lullaby from? I sing “It’s Not Easy” to my daughter before every nap and at bedtime. Sure, it’s a duet about an animated dragon, but she doesn’t seem to mind.
When we first brought our little girl home from the hospital, playing the Foo Fighters “Walking After You” really calmed her down as we rocked her to sleep. The melody is wonderful, even if it is about heartbreak.
Then, there was The Beatles, “Blackbird,” which seems to work better as a song to relax my little girl than a song to get her to sleep. Paul McCartney said he wrote it after the racial desegregation of Little Rock, Arkansas’ school system. He said of the song, “I got the idea of using a blackbird as a symbol for a black person… ‘Take these broken wings,’ was very much on my mind, but it wasn’t exactly an ornithological ditty; it was purposely symbolic.” Hmm, pretty deep for a lullaby.
Okay, so I didn’t want songs about babies falling out of trees, but I was okay with protests to racial desegregation and heartbreak with possible drug abuse undertones? Whatever works, right?
And then I started really thinking… really remembering… I always loved when my mom sang, “Donna Donna,” which, I only recently learned was a Yiddish song. (She always sang the English version). And while the lyrics seemed to be a bit much for a child, including, “Calves are easily bound and slaughtered, never knowing the reason why,” the song was always my favorite. I loved “500 Miles,” and “My Favorite Things,” but time after time I requested, “Donna Donna.” First it was probably because I loved the way my mom sang it and I didn’t understand the lyrics. And then it was because I loved the way my mom sang it, no matter the lyrics.
Then, there was the song that my grandmother sang to all of her grandchildren, “Vu Is Dos Gesele.” And while she didn’t speak to us in Yiddish (besides the occasional shayna meideleh or telling us to lay keppe and go schluffy before bed), she never sang the English version. The Yiddish just made it all the more special. And even though the song felt sad (it was about returning to your village after the Holocaust and your family, your love, and home are gone), it always made me happy. When I think of her, I cannot help but think of the song. The song WAS her. It was her two-bedroom apartment in Queens. It was her love of pigs. It was the creepy marionette that hung over the couch where I’d stay when I slept over. It was her baking challah or matzah ball soup for the holidays. It was her pinching our legs and saying, “I love it, I love it, I love it.” It was the song that my cousins and I sang at her funeral…. beautiful in different ways at different times. But the song has always been magical.
And while I want to have special songs between my daughter and myself, I cannot imagine denying her hearing “Donna Donna” and “Vu Is Dos Gesele.”
So, at bedtime I start with “It’s Not Easy,” transition to “Blackbird,” followed by “Donna Donna.” And if my little girl is being particularly fussy, I sing, “Vu Is Dos Gesele,” and she immediately calms. It’s as if she knows my grandma is right there telling her that she can relax. Everything is going to be fine. And so the magic takes effect.