Lady Lullaby Links

Lady Lullaby Blog

Lullabies for babies, grown-ups and everyone in between!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monsters and Other Friends

Lullabies are usually sweet and lovely things, aimed at soothing and calming a baby in the hopes that everyone involved gets a good night sleep. For slightly older children bedtime also should be soothing and calming, but the fact is that toddlers have more ways to express themselves and that can complicate bedtime. Babies cry. Toddlers whine. Babies drift off. Toddlers negotiate. Babies cuddle. Toddlers go down with a fight—after all, there’s that monster under the bed.

Last week I shared one poet’s interpretation of what babies think. Here’s another artist whose songs about slightly older children express the thought process of that stage of life. Julie Maccarin is a psychologist and family counselor in Asheville, North Carolina who channels toddler’s thoughts and turns them into very funny songs.

“There’s a scary monster under my bed
His hair is blue and his eyes are red
He has two bumps in the middle of his head
And he’s keeping me awake at night!”

Kids like songs like this because, Dr. Maccarin says, “it describes a common childhood fear in a playful and non-threatening way. This helps reduce their anxiety and gives them a sense of mastery over their fears.”

She also has a song about imaginary friends, a topic I understand well. My daughter’s “friends” Herman and Inchka stuck around our house for a very long time---they didn't eat much and cleaned up after themselves, so it was fine with me.

“Many children have an imaginary friend,” says Dr. Maccarin, “though whom they can vicariously express their wishes, fears, needs, frustrations, and other feelings.” The song below is about an imaginary friend who is “smart and wonderful, but also sometimes naughty, not unlike a real little girl or boy!” Take a a look at Dr. Maccarin's website at to learn more or order her CD. 

So as you tuck your baby or toddler into bed tonight, check under the bed and know that, whatever you and your child find, all is well.

Sweet Dreams,

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

To What Miserable Wretches Have I Been Born?

We all talk about what babies need and like, as if we know what they’re thinking and feeling. How in the world do we know what they’re thinking?

There are different ways of gaining knowledge about parenting. We get advice from friends and relatives who've done it. We read books by experts who have talked to lots of others who've done it and condensed that information for us. And maybe the most important way of knowing what our baby wants-- intuition, and  trial and error.

When it comes to lullabies all these things come into play: we learned songs  when we were little that seem natural to sing to our babies, and we sing the standards like “Twinkle Twinkle.” We buy music by “experts”---singers of children’s music and, in my case, music that’s also for parents who are trying to put their babies to sleep.

And intuition comes in when we instinctively pick up a crying baby and start  crooning some comforting sounds. The trial and error comes in if she settles down right away, or if we change out technique to bouncing or pacing or swearing—depending on the time of night and our fatigue level.

But the fact is that we don’t really know what babies are thinking.

However, there is one woman who claims to know, and she is happy to enlighten us. Comedienne Suzanne Weber has written a very funny book of poetry from the baby’s point of view. Her babies let us know, in no uncertain terms, what they’re thinking about a variety of important subjects.

Here is one such discussion about the practice of swaddling, which the current experts feel makes a baby feel secure and safe. When my children were babies we did not swaddle. It seemed cruel and constricting -and having grown up in the sixties we did not believe in constricting anything at any time. Now it’s back in fashion, and this grandmother has struggled to learn the artful technique of wrapping and twirling and generally taking a baby prisoner. I have to say I felt vindicated when I read this poem:

Where Are My Hands??!!??
I had hands.
I know I did.
I was born with them.
They were there this morning.
What have you done with them?!!??
For that matter, where are my arms?
Last thing I remember,
you lay me on a blanket
and just kept
and twisting
and tucking
and tightening
and then
I had no hands.
Or arms.
Come to think of it, can’t really see my legs or feet either.
And what exactly do you expect me to do in this position?
It’s not really conducive to anything except lying here.
What if I just fall asleep like this?
You’d like that, wouldn't you?
Have this little limbless body fall asleep
so you wouldn't have to think
about my needs and attending to them.
You might as well have gotten yourself a houseplant.
Or a throw pillow.
Or a pet rock.
Whatever. Fine.
I’ll sleep.
But only because
trying to do anything else

And despite their impatience with our general incompetence, they still love us and know that we love them. Swaddled or not, I wish you both a good night and sweet dreams.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rapping the Poetry of Love

I like the phrase “The Lullaby Instinct” to describe the way parents in every culture, and in every era, instinctively hum and coo and sing to their babies. If we take that a little farther and add words, but not necessarily a melody, what do we have?

That’s right---rap and hip-hop. And you thought these were new genres?

The basics of hip-hop are rhymes and rhythm. Really clever rhymes  when it’s good, and really strong rhythm. These are the same ingredients that make up nursery rhymes, although the subject matter is usually different. But those elements are what babies, kids, teenagers, and adults--in other words, the human species--respond to instinctively.

This isn't just my observation. The University of Cambridge’s professor Morag Styles is a professor of children’s poetry. “Children’s responses to poetry are innate, instinctive, natural—maybe it starts in the womb, with the mother’s heartbeat? Children are hard-wired to musical language . . .

“Even when we tell young children stories, they demand exact re-telling's and repetitions with the same cadences, rhythms, pauses, and tones they heard the time before. This early sharing of musical language is often physical too: bumping toddlers up and down on our knees and often ending with kisses. Early poetry is about the expression of love.”

And don’t think that poetry for your baby needs to be either great literature or the latest hit. The basics of rhythm and rhyme and emotions are timeless. Try out these lines from Woody Guthrie—don’t worry about a tune, just say the words in rhythm--while rocking or bouncing, or changing a diaper:

Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle, jiggle
Tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle,
Little sack of sugar, I could eat you up
Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle, jiggle,
Pickle, pickle, pickle, pickle
Little sack of sugar I could eat you up.

Listen  to Little Sugar Little Saka Sugar by Woody Guthrie here:

So go ahead and jiggle and tickle and do it to a beat, and your baby will know that what you’re saying is: “I love you.”

Next week: poetry from the baby’s point of view!

Sweet Dreams,