The power of music to soothe the savage toddler
Originally published June 10, 2011
I come from a family that likes to sing. When I was growing up, we had songs for all sorts of occasions, including eating bananas, climbing the stairs to go to bed, and locating the measuring cups in the kitchen. Michael, too, comes from a musically inclined family. This leads to us creating all sorts of situations where music is an appropriate solution to Muffin and Squeaker’s issues.
We sing them songs that are familiar: “The Wheels on the Bus,” for which Squeaker does the appropriate hand motions for the bus wheels; “Ring Around a Rosie,” for which both girls love spinning in circles and then falling down; and the Clean Up Song from Barney the Dinosaur’s show from the 1990s, with which we try—with varying measures of success—to get the girls to put their toys away.
Singing to the girls is not unusual. Many authorities recommend singing to calm a squalling baby or to soothe them to sleep. And there are childhood songs that teach the alphabet, body parts, and many other things. Those are great as far as they go. But what about the situations that don’t have songs written for them? For those, I made up songs.
Within the first few days of us bringing the girls home, we discovered that Muffin was happiest when she was being bounced. As I walked the circuit of hallway-dining room-living room-hallway for hours on end, I started to sing a ditty I made up on the spot. This simple little melody has become known in our household as the “Muffin Bounce Song.” It has simple lyrics: Muffin, Muffin bounce/Muffin, Muffin bounce/Muffin bounce, Muffin bounce, Muffin bounce bounce. Over and over and over. But it got Muffin to calm down and fall asleep, so it was a successful song.
Later, when we developed the pattern that I would nurse and soothe first one girl and then the other to sleep, I sang them songs before bedtime. For Squeaker, I developed a song cycle of four songs from the Jewish liturgy that have soothing melodies and that would (eventually) ease her to sleep. I also sang them the Shema, a prayer traditionally said right before falling asleep, and another song of my own creation, which we’ve come to call “You are my baby girl.” When both girls had weaned and we started doing joint bedtime for both, this song evolved to “You are our baby girls.” It doesn’t have set lyrics except for the first verse — “You are our baby girls/our sweet little baby girls/our precious little baby girls/and we love you so.” Other than that, it is a free-for-all lyricwise. On days that they have run and jumped a lot, the lyrics can be “You are our baby girls/our running, jumping baby girls.” If they’ve had chocolate, it is not unusual for one verse to reference “our chocolate-covered baby girls.”
Some songs that we sing begin as songs Michael and I know from the 1980s. “We Will Rock You” by Queen works very well for a girl being rocked in a bouncy chair. And ever since the girls have discovered bicycles as a concept, they have been announcing the existence of bicycles everywhere. So I started playing them “Bicycle Race” by Queen, which they now ask for regularly. For those who might fear that I am dooming them to a life filled solely with classic rock, rest assured that I have been known to sing them “Single Babies,” in the style of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” but more geared to the teething ring set.
Michael and I hope that our girls will grow up with an appreciation of music of all types. And I would not be at all surprised if they developed the same tendency toward making up silly songs that their parents have. Music speaks many languages, and some of those languages, at least for us, lean toward the goofy.
This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.
About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2011 by Brookline Patch.