He was a few hours outside the womb, bewildered and crying. A nurse swaddled him in a blanket, stuck a knit cap on his head, and placed him in the bassinet.
Suddenly, he quieted. And suddenly I realized that there was not just a brand-new human being in the room, but also…a lunch entrée?
“He looks like a burrito,” I said.
Bewildered myself from giving birth and graduating from “expectant” to “parent” in the course of an afternoon, I started to sing:
(to the tune of “Baby Beluga”)
Baby Burrito in the taco bar
The line’s so long and we’ve come so far
The warmer above and the tray below
And a little burrito to go.
Baby Burrito! Baby Burrito!
Is the salsa warm? Is the rice like home?
We want to eat you…
It worked in the birth center, and for months afterward: This notoriously colicky baby calmed down to the words of this song on repeat. There were nights when I would tell myself, ‘I’ll sing it ten more times, and if he’s still not sleeping…I’ll sing it ten more.’
With Paul home and sleep coming in short spurts, my mind started to snag on phrases, short-circuiting to a song. A swaddling blanket printed with “i love you i love you i love you” prompted me to sing the Beatles’ “Michelle” every time.
A new clothing strategy aimed at getting the baby more comfortable at night stuck got The B-52s stuck in my head:
Sleep sack, baby sleep sack. Sleep sack, baby sleep sack.
Oh baby, sleep sack is a little old place where we can WEAR OUR JAMMIES.
Paul was a skinny baby for that first month, and he cried all the time. A hoodie I got him for week at the beach swamped his little body – and inspired a new persona, Slim Cranky.
As Slim Cranky, Paul churned out the musical hits, including:
Dance and dance and dance and party party
Dance and dance and dance and party party
(I walked in one day to find my husband singing this to Paul, complete with baby dance moves; credit goes to him for tune, lyrics and choreography.)
A dino onesie. A dino onesie.
A dino, a dino, a dino dino dino
(Inspired by a strange little creature printed on a hand-me-down garment.)
Through the first year of Paul’s life, music took a new, almost omnipresent, place in my life. Most of it not high-quality:
How much is that baby in the mirror? The one with the dino onesie?
How much is that baby in the mirror? I do hope that baby loves me.
I must take a trip to California, and leave my poor baby alone.
Just kidding, I lied, I’d never do that. Because of my babe I’ll stay home.
To buy myself time to shower while the baby sat in his bouncy chair on the bathroom floor, I’d sing show tunes:
Hello, baby! You are Mister Baby,
It’s nice to have you back where you belong.
You’re looking swell, baby, I can tell, baby
You’re still glowing, you’re still crowing, you’re still [stomp, jazz hands] goin’ strong…
And for desperate times, another churned out by my husband:
It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s okay, it’s okay.
It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s okay. Hey Paul, it’s okay.
I called this one “Off-brand Mr. Rogers” and started singing it to myself for self-soothing.
Paul turned two years old this week. As he grows, I find the music going as strong as ever, but shifting now from mindless ditties meant to sooth the baby (or myself) to catchy tunes intended to teach him something. “Here comes the firetruck,” “We’re counting to one hundred.” Of course the alphabet song.
Song is a memory device for a reason. “Music that is simple, repetitive, and easy to sing (or hum) is most likely to get stuck,” I read in Wired this week. “Nursery rhymes and kid-friendly tunes are also strong earworm contenders. They’re composed to be catchy, with an ear toward repetition, and as a result, memorization.”
God save me from “Baby Shark.”
Then again, don’t save me. I’m enjoying this.
There was a time when could not sing without starting to cry. I felt allergic to music. My emotions were on trip-wires, so when it came to sound, I reached for the mental neutrality of facts. An audio book or a nice newscast. Or silence.
Silence: a code word for solitude. During that time, I accessed my internal stereo system’s volume knob, turning down the jabber from the outside world and the cacophony of voices in my head.
It seems like the opposite of now, when I sing to get my kid to stop crying, but that music-averse period was actually a step toward my current soundscape, which is a fire hose of sound and sensation connected to this emergent little person and my new identity as a parent – code word for there’s always someone in the room with you.
Parenting is non-stop. It’s delightful and difficult all at once. It’s relentless.
We spent Sunday afternoon at the Artesani Pool (max depth, 2 feet; max capacity, 250 screaming children). Spent from the sun and the splashing, we walked the half mile back to our car behind a mom carrying her six or seven year old girl. Mom looked as weary as I felt, but her kid was on fire, reading out loud from a book about planets. After a while, they flowed into a melodious call and response.
Mom: What is the planet with the beautiful rings?
Listening to them, I thought, so I’m not the only one. And also: It doesn’t let up, does it?
Music, from the silly songs to the string quartets I turn on in the evenings to the classic jazz my husband plays in the car, gives us respite, diversion and belly laughs. It brightens the good times and keeps us sane through the bad. It’s teaching my son the alphabet.
We are taking a note from musical theater. Why walk when you can dance? Why speak when you can sing?
Why just get dressed in the morning when you can sing a silly song about it?