My mom did not have any traditional lullabies in her repertoire. House of the Rising Sun, American Pie, Hotel California. These were the standards. I’ve carried on this tradition with my own kids and added a few, but nothing from this century. The Joker, some Rolling Stones, and the Greatest Love of All. This last one made it into the rotation in the predawn hours one morning when I was reaching for a song that I knew all the words to, one that would be just long (and boring) enough to finally put a teething little insomniac to sleep.
When I was a kid, I listened to Whitney Houston sing that song over, and over, and over again on my Easter egg-colored little boom box. I laid on the floor with the lavender machine in front of me, repeatedly pushing the pastel play and pause, rewind and stop buttons. Testing the resilience of the thin cassette tape, and carefully re-spooling it with my fingers when the brown plastic loops would go slack.
I was singing it again last night as I rocked my almost 3 year old back to sleep after a nightmare. We sat in same chair that I’ve rocked all 3 of the kids to sleep in. But it’s too small for this function now. The boy is half my height and the two of us together in the chair looked like a sloppily twisted soft pretzel version of the Madonna and Child.
This time Whitney’s call to action, her plea for us to let the children lead the way and show us all the beauty they possess inside, left him curious and unfortunately more awake. There was a running commentary and stream of questions as I sung off-key.
Mama, why no walking in da shadows? Is it dangerous? Walking on ice mountains is dangerous. I like shadows. Can we make shadows now? What mean “dignity”? Let’s search for heroes.
Lullabies are no longer sleepy background noise in our house. They are songs with words and meaning, and the little person–no longer a baby–sprawled across my body was asking for more. More information. More context and definition. More time with his mama in the middle of the night.
I was rocking and thinking how much I love that I can give him these things in this too small, loudly upholstered in black and white floral chair–the same chair that my mom held his sisters in.
He’s clever and he loves his mom. I was thinking about how my mom so loved cleverness and would have, so very much, loved him.
I was thinking about his Grammy and Granddad and his Pop Pop, aunts and uncles and Great Aunties. All of whom rocked him and his sisters before him in that chair. All still here, cramming themselves and one or more kids into that chair, rocking and reading with them from time to time.
I was thinking about how easy it is to get lost in wanting something or someone you don’t have, and how lucky our family is to have so much past and present love around us.
I stretched the blanket to cover his feet dangling over the side of the chair and told him to close his eyes so he could listen to a new song. I went with California Dreaming.