Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I babysat for Macduff again tonight, and when it came time to give him his good-night bottle, the batteries in his trusty singing Glow Worm weren't up to the task. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but I figured Macduff is too young to tell the difference and I was determined to lull him to sleep, so I sang him the lullabies I remember from my own childhood.

I don't know how common they are, because to be honest my mother is the only person I've ever heard sing any of them to a child. I remember her singing "The Ants Go Marching" and "Hush Little Baby," though I'm not sure if the lyrics were standard or if she made them up. Apparently my two favorites are an old African spiritual and a Peter, Paul, and Mary song. Go figure.

Mom's version of "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore" was a bit different:

Michael, row your boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael, row your boat ashore, hallelujah

Brother, lend a helping hand, hallelujah
Brother, lend a helping hand, hallelujah

Sister, help to trim the sail, hallelujah
Sister, help to trim the sail, hallelujah

The River Jordan is chilly and wide, hallelujah
Milk and honey on the other side, hallelujah

Michael, row your boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael, row your boat ashore, hallelujah

And her version of "Five Hundred Miles" was missing the second verse:

If you miss the train I'm on
You will know that I am gone
You will hear the whistle blow
Five hundred miles

Lord I'm one, Lord I'm two
Lord I'm three, Lord I'm four
Lord I'm five hundred miles away from home

Even for such a poor singer as myself, there's something bone-deep and right about singing a lullaby to a baby. It's easy to imagine humans across all times, all cultures, doing just the same thing. What are your favorite lullabies or songs you remember someone singing to you and still love?

Reading:  Larry and the Meaning of Life by Janet Tashjian

Playing:  Gregory Alan Isakov, via my dear Heather Feather


  1. I really tried singing standard lullabies to my two girls when they were babies, but being um, melodically challenged, every song I attempted came out sounding like the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling." So I bowed to the inevitable and just sang a kind of medley of "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Desperado" to the girls.

    True story: I can still make them sleepy by putting Eagles Greatest Hits v. 1 on the CD player. :-)

  2. Those songs always remind me of my childhood, so I'm all for Eagles as lullaby!

    Truth be told, if "Michael Row Your Boat" hadn't worked, I was going to move on to Reba McIntyre's "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," which is about the only thing I can recall all the words to under pressure. (Well, that and "Me and Bobby McGee")

  3. One night I sang all the Beatles songs i could remember to my daughter.

    There was also one I made up that I sang to both of my babies...

    I Love your eyes, I Love your nose.
    I Love your fingers, I Love your toes.
    I Love your knees, I Love your hair.
    I LOVE my baby everywhere.