Songs to Dream On

By Rose Ann Sinay

Like many mothers-to-be (in the late 70s), I was delighted and stressed over decorating the nursery in genderless shades of yellow and green, and animal or alphabet themes. The ultrasound test that could tell you the sex of your baby was still a thing of the future. The absence of this (now) routine technology is an unimaginable concept for my grown children who personalized their nurseries with pink and lilac, as well as, yellow, green and blue.

I thought I had all the essentials covered: the diapers, sleepers, t-shirts, lotions, powders, thermometer, humidifier, breast pump, a lamp with a boy and a girl in an air-balloon basket. Everything had been checked off the list. I read books. I listened to the doctor, my mother, my friends; I was ready, or so I thought. The oversight of a simple, every-night ritual took me by surprise.

I had no lullaby.

That first night at home cradling my newborn son in my arms, I could think of nothing special or meaningful to sing to him. “Rock-a-bye Baby,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and “Old MacDonald had a Farm” were the only children’s songs that came to mind, and they would not do. I rocked my baby in a chair that had been chosen over three others, and yet, I hadn’t planned for such an important childhood tradition.

My mother couldn’t carry a tune. I had never heard her singing along with her favorite country songs, so I was pretty sure soft crooning in my ear hadn’t happened. My own repertoire was limited to Simon and Garfunkel, The Letterman, The Beach Boys and a smattering of Sonny and Cher, none of which were appropriate.

I tried to remember some old-time ditties. Today, of course, I could bring up a slew of baby tunes on the Internet, but at that time, I had only my own limited, musically deprived data bank upon which to call.

There were the simple verses I learned in elementary school: Indian songs (chanting monotones boring enough to put anyone to sleep), folksy lyrics (“There’s a Hole in my Bucket”) and Christmas songs for the winter concerts, but no special nursery jingles.

Finally, I settled on “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)”  I’d rather be a hammer than a nail… Not my idea of a lullaby, but it would have to do until I found the perfect serenade.

The next day I checked with my mother. I was right: she was tone deaf and couldn’t remember singing any particular songs to me, or my siblings. She listed some unoriginal tunes that I had already rejected. I didn’t call my friends. I was sure they would have suggestions, but the song had to have meaning to us. So, as my baby slept, I turned the radio on, spun the dial, and searched for something that would spark an emotional connection.

Perhaps, I thought, I was obsessing over something that would come with time. I didn’t need to feel guilty, but I did. “Rock-a-Bye Baby” was beginning to look like a top contender.

An hour later, fingers cramping, I came upon a station that played Irish songs. There was enough Irish blood running through our veins to make a claim. When I was young, my mother told me stories of her family who lived on the island. The tales were adventurous, scandalous, happy, sad and wonderfully interesting. Ireland became that magical island in the stars with bigger-than-life characters – members of our family. I guess you could say those stories told to me by my mother, whose mother told to her, were my lullabies without the melody.

As luck would have it, I recognized an old ballad. It brought back memories of the music teacher who had taught us songs from different countries all over the world. Even at that young age, I was drawn to the soulful Irish lyrics. As I listened to the radio station, it all came back. “A Little Bit of Heaven” and “Galway Bay,” (the only Irish songs I knew) played back to back. I’d made a connection to the melodic poems when I was a child, and all these years later, I still remembered the words. It was meant to be; we had our special songs! Every night my son and daughter fell asleep listening to the ballads, conjuring dreams of one of the strong, shiny threads in our heritage.

Many years later, after my daughter had a baby of her own, she asked me to help her recall the words of her old lullabies. She knew most of them. It was simply a matter of singing them out loud again. A quick check on the computer (oh so easy!) showed my memorized versions were not so accurate, after all. It didn’t matter – the words stayed the same. Unique and indelible, the beautiful ballads belonged to us.

About this writer

  • Rose Ann Sinay

    Rose Ann Sinay

    Rose Ann Sinay is a freelance writer newly relocated to Connecticut. She continues to write about moments worth remembering, graciously provided by family and friends.

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6 Responses to “Songs to Dream On”

  1. Kailey says:

    I still get nostalgic every night we sing those Irish lullabies to Mila. I giggle that Ryan can sing them too. I like our versions better than the (maybe) real ones.

  2. Betsy says:

    My parents never sang to us But the special joy of story time has stayed with me forever. Great story Roe

  3. Tammy Rohlf says:

    You took me back to one of my favorite memories with my kids. I can still feel them in my arms as I rocked them to sleep and sang (at least tried to) our special lullabies.

  4. Erika Hoffman says:

    I can’t sing either. I can’t even listen to myself, all alone, sing. It’s not in my family’s DNA. So, delighted I am that my son-in-law sings to their newborn. Apparently, my daughter is like me , after all,– talentless in the vocal department! Enjoyed your essay!

  5. SandyK says:

    Loved this story, RoseAnn! Singing everyday that I taught K-2 was a favorite part of my day. I played music in my classroom all day. My big kids love music and singing, too! Favorite songs as infants or famiy car trip songs are great, too!
    Miss you!!

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