Weekend Question Thread

A few years back when a friend was pregnant with her first child, we sat around one night discussing all the ways in which children’s lullabies and songs were fucking creepy. We went through all the traditional songs, Ring Around the Rosy, Rock-a-Bye Baby, etc, and could not find a one that did not have some allusion to death or disaster. I think she wound up raising the little niblet on the Indigo Girls because of that conversation.

What did you used to sing as a child? What do you sing to your children now?


41 thoughts on “Weekend Question Thread

  1. I’m partial to Rosalie Sorrel’s “hostile baby rocking song” medley.

  2. I used to sing, “Sweet Baby James,” until he got old enough to scream, “Don’t sing, Mommy!”

  3. I used to sing “Rock a Bye Baby” to my youngest daughter in a calm, soothing voice, and after every line she would shout ‘CHA CHA CHA’.
    For another true creepshow, read the original versions of fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk, where in the giant’s castle were imprisoned all these women because ‘they refused to eat the flesh of their dead husbands’.

  4. A friend of mine, when her daughters were toddler age, was at an intersection telling her girls not to cross “until they see the white man on the sign” and instantly realized how that could be construed as racist and sexist. Where’s the black/brown/yellow/green woman on the pedestrian crossing lights? Huh? Huh???
    I would try to sing to my son, but he didn’t, and still doesn’t, like me to. I tried playing some classical, but he never responded to it as well as he did to the theme song from “The Simpsons”, to some Jewish and Hebrew songs, and especially to the Godfather of Soul, Sharon Jones, the Kinks, and the Beatles. I can’t tell you how down we all were when James Brown died on Christmas that year. “Now we can’t get him for the little guy’s bar mitzvah!” my husband said in half-jest. It was close to losing a member of the family.

  5. My bellydance ‘sister’ had danced all while preggers w/my faux-niece, so once the Munchkin was out and got fussy, either mom or dad would pop in a middle-eastern drumming c.d. and little’un would settle right down. 🙂

  6. Lately I’ve been singing the B52’s “Love Shack” to my grandson (he’s 4 yrs old) and he loves it. When he was a baby I sang the Kinks’ “Wonder Boy” to him a lot, along with a lot of Nilsson’s great stuff: any song from “The Point”, The Moonbeam Song, Turn on your radio…

  7. I rewrote the lyrics to all that stuff, but I’m not sure how it went anymore. I sang “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and stuff like that too. Michael, Row The Boat Ashore, Amazing Grace. I redid the melody to the Alphabet song so that you don’t sing “elimino pee”. Anything with a fairly simple melody that I could sing easily. Oh, Yankee Doodle Dandy. Brahm’s Lullaby – needed new lyrics too.
    I sang a lot. i can’t sing, but that didn’t stop me.

  8. When I was driving my son to preschool every day, he decided that he really liked Blink 182’s “All the Small Things.” (And why not? Good beat, no blatantly objectionable lyrics, etc.) But when I would sing along, he would inevitably shout, “Daddy, stop! That makes my ears sad!”
    And I used to sing in a band. For money.
    Oh, well.

  9. Lex, I think very young kids often don’t like the sound of parental voices singing.
    The spoken voice is familiar and soothing, but the same voice in song sounds creepy to the kid. Makes their ears sad.

  10. my kids can’t stand my singing. but they loved the Marty Robbins, George Strait and Alan Jackson songs on the radio. Heh. Can still stick ’em in the backseat, turn on a country station, and they’re snoozed within 5 miles down the road.

  11. Don’t know why the whole comment didn’t show ( the ‘links’ were all correct but it only included the middle one) – let’s try without …
    My kids favorites were a couple of Dan Fogelberg songs I used to sing to them.
    1) Sand and the Foam http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yl4CvYyRlDI
    2 ) Only the Heart May Know http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQ4KvvIm7-c
    My husband used to sing Grandma’s Feather Bed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDmbinPMMS8 to them.

  12. when my boys were small and impressionable, they spent a lot of their saturdays tagging along with me to rugby.
    as a result, they were not only the only kids in kdg. and first grade who knew how to tap a keg, but also the only ones whose teachers were warned, “if you’re ever singing a song and my son says he knows other words to that song, trust me: you don’t want to hear them.”

  13. Most of my nephew loved ‘Werewolves of London’ when he was a squirt. And you can get babies to the the ‘WoooOOO’ part of ‘Elevation’ by U2 before they can talk.

  14. As M31 alluded to, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, in the original, are absolutely awful. You’ve got to wonder why they would say them to their children (best explanation is that it kept the children close to home, out of the forrest but in the process bred a paranoid outlook on things you didn’t understand. And let’s face it, there’s a lot in nature that you could be afraid of in the dark and spooky forrest.)

  15. Always by Irving Berlin. Nilsson version, but I didn’t sing it as well.

  16. I sing my nieces and nephews (there are six of them six and under) to sleep all the time, and regularly make lullaby CDs for all my friends who have babies. Some of my non-creepy faves are these:
    The One Who Knows (by Dar Williams)
    Godspeed (by Radney Foster, also recorded by Dixie Chicks)
    A Letter to Dustin (by Kevin Welch)
    Lullaby (by Bodeans)
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow
    Tell Me Why
    And although this isn’t particularly good for getting them to sleep, if you just want to get a cranky pre-schooler laughing, try singing Radney Foster’s “Little Babies Like to Suck on Their Toes.” No matter how cranky they are when I start singing, by the second chorus, the kids are singing along with me and laughing and dancing.

  17. They’d get whatever I was in the mood to sing and they’d LIKE it.
    All my kids are musical now and they all have great voices from singing on their own, trying to drown out mommy singing folk songs and showtunes.

  18. It’s revenge. The little tots can totally tyrannize you, but they don’t understand what you are singing.
    Believe me, I have crooned in my sweetest voice “you know I can scream much louder than you can, so you don’t want to make this a loud screaming contest.”
    On the other hand, for me to sing would be child abuse.

  19. For some reason, I had to “sing about my day” to both my son and daughter. Individually. Both are grown and have very good ears for tunes.

  20. I don’t remember any lullabies for bedtime. I remember being read to – that was constant and lasted after I could read myself.
    I do sing/hum to my parrot when he’s sleepy. It cues him that it’s time to shut down. The old J. Lennon song Julia. Sometimes when he’s sleepy he hums it to himself. V. cute.

  21. I think the cradle in the tree tops is a reference to Jupiter:
    Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 139 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
    “After Opis [Rhea] had borne Jove [Zeus] by Saturn [Kronos] . . . Juno [Hera], however, took Jove to the island of Crete, and Amalthea, the child’s nurse, hung him in a cradle from a tree, so that he could be found neither in heaven nor on earth nor in the sea. And lest the cries of the baby be heard, she summoned youths and gave them small brazen shields and spears, and bade them go around the tree making a noise. In Greek they are called Curetes.”

  22. Don’t sing to The Midget. She sings to me. Usually, it’s a homemade song about how I wouldn’t let her have a cookie.

  23. If I were to sing to someone else’s children, I’d probably choose the Sound of Music ouvre–Lonely Goatherd, Edelweiss, etc. Pretty non-objectionable, and who can complain about Julie Andrews? Actually, pretty much any Rodgers and Hammerstein would work. (Well, except for the Judd stuff in Oklahoma.)
    Of course, I’m also partial to murder ballads and ABBA.
    Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t plan to procreate.

  24. Buggy, love a good murder ballad. When I saw Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, they opened up a new set saying “Okey Dokey, now it’s time for a Killin’ Song.”

  25. Que sera, sera. Ride a Cock Horse. This Little Piggie. Little Robin Red Breast. X Marks the Spot. How Does the Lady Ride? Waltzing Matilda. And my wife would dance our daughter around the room singing the bee girl song from the early ’90’s MTV. I can’t think of its name, but our daughter still listens to it sometimes.

  26. “Nightswimming” and “Find the River” by R.E.M., both from their greatest album, “Automatic for the People.”

  27. I sang christmas songs and Elvis’ “Hound Dog”-my kids got Talking Heads “Baby baby”…
    And they always knew that if they lost me in the grocery or Wallyworld, listen for the guy whistling classical music, Mozart or Bach…

  28. The scare factor of the old fairy tales actually may help kids work through primal fears and anxieties in a fantasy world before being confronted by them in real life. Themes of abandonment, abuse, poverty, loss of parents, etc.
    We’re only about two generations removed (at most) from it having been the norm for kids to witness the effects of illness and death in their own homes as ill and dying family members stayed where they were, and died at home, rather than being moved to hospitals.
    There’s a good argument to be made that we haven’t helped our kids by trying to sugarcoat their worlds — they’re going to experience scary things in real life, so a little preparation may be a good thing.
    I was actually fascinated by this topic in college and read a fair bit about it. Bruno Bettelheim’s “The Uses of Enchantment” is a good place to start for anyone who is interested.
    One thing to note, though — it’s definitely important not to blend the fantasy and real world too soon. I had a good friend who used to read “The Big Bad Wolf” to her daughter. One night as they were reading, someone knocked at the door, the daughter asked who it was, and my friend lightly answered “the Wolf!” The kid had screaming nightmares for weeks and they never read the story again. Not sure which of them was more traumatized, but I’m pretty sure it was my friend.

  29. Interesting to remember, too, that it was the children living during the plague years who invented “ring around the rosy.” A gallows humor way of dealing with the reality all around them.

  30. grandpa taught us the ‘if i die before i wake prayer in german. einech bech(?) gate saru(sp) sleesy meinie(sp) augan sue(sp) fater las hmm, what’s the last part? augan zine(sp).
    not so scary.

  31. My mother had a hilarious be-bop version of the “Three Bears” that she used to sing, and I can’t for the life of me remember how it went in its entirety.
    The line I remember the best is, “‘Hey-bob-a-ree bear!’ said the little wee bear, “Someone has broken my chair! Ahhh!”

  32. it was the children living during the plague years who invented “ring around the rosy.”
    That’s a nice, and very common, folk etymology, but it isn’t true — there are no records of that rhyme existing prior to the 19th Century, and it was written as a piece of satirical poetry (by an adult) referring obliquely to some political situation or other, now long since forgotten except by historians of the period.

  33. My folks got me the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales, not really knowing what was in them (I think).
    Hours and hours and hours of morbid fun!
    One of my faves:

    The Three Army Surgeons (KHM 118 ,Die drei Feldscherer) is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about 3 traveling army surgeons who perform surgery on themselves to impress an innkeeper. After removing the organs, they will put them back in the morning. One cuts off his hand, one cuts out his heart and one removes his own eyes. During the night a girl working at the inn has a visit from her lover, a soldier. She gives him some food from the cupboard that is holding the organs. The cat comes and takes the organs. After seeing the organs gone, she tells the soldier. He goes to the gallows and cuts the correct hand off a thief and brings it to her. He then gets the heart of a pig and eyes of a cat. In the morning the doctors re-attach the missing members using a salve they carry with them. After going on the road again one doctor could not see with his reinstalled eyes and had the others guide him. Another doctor started rooting around in the dirt. When they reached another inn the third doctor found he could not help stealing. After traveling back to the original inn they found the girl had fled seeing their approach. They threatened to burn down the inn unless the innkeeper make reparations. He paid them enough to retire, though they still wanted their original organs back.

    Good stuff.
    Didn’t find out the origins of the nursery rhymes until long after I quit singing them.

  34. My Grandmother used to sing us a song about a spider and a fly:
    There was a little spider
    And he made a little cider
    Out of rose and violet leaves.
    Then he set a little table
    Just as good as he was able
    ‘neath the broad and shady eves.
    There came a fly a flying
    And he set up such a sighing
    that she stopped to hear him say.
    “I’m so lonesome and so lonely
    won’t you stay and be my only,
    And we’ll while the hours away”
    Oh silly, silly, silly little fly.
    Thought she’d wed a spider,
    Thought she’d drink his cider.
    Silly, silly, silly little fly
    Well there’s nothing more to tell you,
    and I guess that you know why.

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