Once, a long two and a half months ago, I had plans for lullabies. I typed out the songs I knew well enough to sing the melodies and printed the lyrics for myself to tack up in the babies’ room. And I’ve mislaid it, like so many things lost in the shuffle of new parenthood. It’s probably somewhere in the office, which I’ve cleaned recently. Everything is in its proper place now, so I’ll never find it.
The pages of lyrics turned out not to matter so much. I sing to them constantly, narrating my actions as I move through bottles and diaper changes and tummy time. Youtube is often employed to calm them down with dance parties in the evenings, and I sing babblewords along with Sofi Tucker and Jain and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Sometimes, if I’m animated enough, I can get Eleanor to laugh. Henry’s laughs are more elusive. He seems to only laugh when his sister is laughing.
Happy songs can be anything, but the need for structure around bedtime had me returning over and over to a song from Adventure Time. “Everything Stays” was from the seventh season, and it repeated over a series of episodes about Marceline the Vampire Queen. If you look it up, you’ll find versions sung by the song’s composer, and ones sung by Marceline’s voice actor. Both are lovely in different ways. The lullaby in the show was sung by Marceline’s mother during an apocalypse; one she remembered for a thousand years. It was a sweet and quiet moment between her and her mother, and it stuck with me enough that I kept returning to the song even when I couldn’t remember any others. But in the show there’s only one verse, and it takes several rounds of singing to complete the bedtime sequence for two babies.
“Let’s go in the garden; you’ll find something waiting
right there where you left it lying upside down.
You’ll know once you find it, you’ll see how it’s faded
The underside is lighter when you turn it around”
It turns out there’s a second verse, which I found when I was looking to see if I had the lyrics right. They were right enough, but I couldn’t sing the second verse. The problem was with the last line.
“Go down to the ocean; a crystal tide is raising,
The water’s gotten higher as the shore washes out,
Keep your eyes wide open even when the sun is blazing,
The moon controls the tide; it could cause you to drown.”
I have saved both my kids from suffocation too many times in the past three months to sing the word “drown” without crying*. Typing it now has my own voice ringing in my ear, shouting for Henry to breathe as I smack his back and turn him around to suck at his nose with my own mouth. It really only takes one taste of life threatening mucus spat onto the floor to make the word “drown” forever distasteful, so I faltered over the last line until I changed it.
“Find a little seashell, there among the rubble.
It will gently whisper what the ocean’s about…”
Two verses still make for a very short song, and the search for lyrics that wouldn’t make me cry got me thinking of verses beyond what was written. Because we’re in Washington, my next thought was of trees. It took some spinning to find a proper sentiment, but I’ve finally landed on the right words, and they’re now a part of the lullaby I sing every night.
“Go into the forest, look the trees are swaying,
the ground is slightly swelling as the forest breathes in.
If you’re feeling lost you can lay among the mosses
and ask all of the mushrooms where you ought to begin.”
The verses keep evolving as I sing to them. We’ll take the song into the mountains, to the river, to the old house, to the lake… wherever I can make a few more verses fit, because when the song is going the kids are happy. But it always comes back to the chorus, which has become almost a mantra, one I can fall into when the kids are yelling in stereo and my brain feels like its being squeezed.
Right where you left it
But it’s still changing
Daily and nightly, every so slightly, in little ways
When everything stays”
*the list of what will make me cry has gotten considerably longer since i’ve become a mother. Nonexhaustive list includes; Disney’s Robin Hood, certain tracks from Penguin Cafe’s The Red Book, dnd podcasts, Ducktails (2017), and any violins in crescendo.