Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hostile lullabies

Jeff and I share an apartment with another couple and their two-month-old baby. I'm getting lots of babysitting practice, and with that comes lots of singing. After a day with a person who can't speak or understand your language, what you really want is to be verbal. Reading is difficult because babies have a way of occupying your hands. The kid likes hearing a human voice, but you quickly run out of things to say to someone who can't talk back. Thus, singing.

I'm realizing lots of the standard lullabies are strangely slow in tempo and sappy in lyric. At least at this age, the baby seems to want a lot of upbeat jiggling, not slow rocking. And since the baby only hears sounds, you can say anything. Which explains all the less-than-kind older lullabies. Think "When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall."

From Scotland, with too many children:
Hee O, wee O, what wou'd I do wi' you?
Black's the life that I lead wi' you;
Many o' you, little for to gie you.


A sleep aid from Appalachia:
What'll we do with the baby-o?
If he don't go to sleepy-o?
Dance him north, dance him south,
Pour a little moonshine in his mouth.


From the Blackfoot:
Come wolf, bite this baby:
He won't sleep.


Then there are the homemade kind, made up on the spot. Our housemate Hassan's go something like this:
Baby baby, you're the one
You make bathtime . . . you actually hate bathtime.


Bottom line: If you don't keep your sense of humor, you're done for.

4 comments:

T said...

there's a galician lullaby that asks the witches, if they're already in your house, to take the baby first. always been a particular favorite of mine since everything else in superstition is about not giving into witches or avoiding them, etc.

Anonymous said...

we've been playing an old tape from when my cousin was a baby: "golden slumbers," with a bunch of great singers, like pete seeger. my favorite is "petit chat noir," sung by oscar brand. it's really upbeat (because it's ostensibly addressing a cat?), has "don't you touch my baby" as its refrain, and willa smiles every time we sing it. i'd highly recommend it!

Julia Wise said...

Wow, I'd forgotten that tape! I had it too, and loved it. Although now that I look at the list of what's on it, I may have had some kind of abridged version that someone made to fit on one half of a cassette, because I don't remember half the songs.

The baby in our house is just starting to smile, but not predictably.

JSS said...

My mom always sang Wayfaring Stranger and I Wonder as I Wander as lullabies. Dying, wandering in a sad lost sort of way, and poor ornery wretches featured heavily in the music of my childhood.