Music, Stories Told

Singing to soothe my sons

I have three sons – a stepson grown and gone, a teen, and an almost teen. I was there when the younger two came into the world. I did my best to be a good dad to my baby boys, though I freely admit I enjoy parenting more and more the older they get! Naturally, my fatherly duties included soothing them when they were unhappy or sick. Like most kids, they’re unmistakably like their mother and father but night-and-day different from each other. But when they were in distress, they both calmed down when I sang to them.

The older son was good natured from the start. It’s as if he awoke every morning and said to himself, “I think I’m going to have a happy day,” and then set about making it so. He filled his days with big smiles for everyone who caught his gaze. He encountering everything – toy, television show, meal, our dog, other children – with such joy and delight you’d think it was long lost and beloved.

The colic that plagued him the first nine months of his life stood out in stark relief. Things started going south for him each day by late afternoon. By the time I came home from work he was fully miserable and wailing like an air raid siren. His frazzled mother immediately handed him off to me and and disappeared into the kitchen to seek relief (and make dinner). Now, I cared about my poor son’s suffering. But honestly, I mostly just wanted his eardrum-piercing shrieks to end. Seriously, you could hear the boy out in the yard even when all the windows and doors were closed. I quickly figured out that holding him to my chest as I paced through the house calmed him some. I tried singing to him as I paced and found that some songs calmed him a little while others had no effect. I tried every song in my repertoire. When I sang this obscure Paul McCartney and Wings song to him, he went limp and silent in my arms. So I sang it to him over and over, pacing the length of our ranch-style home every night for hours at a time. Finally, blessedly, the colic ended.

My younger son, on the other hand, approached life with steely determination. Think Chuck Norris out to get the bad guys. The boy quickly sized up a situation, identified his goal, and set about achieving it. His first conquest was the couch. It was cute at first to watch him grunt and struggle to pull himself up off the floor and onto the seat cushions. But after he achieved that, he set his sights on the arm and then the side-table lamp, which was not going to end well. We had to keep an eagle eye on that kid!

But with each new objective his desires at first outpaced his abilities. He would try and fail, and try and fail, and try and fail, getting angrier and angrier all the way. Soon his frustration would consume him and he’d just cry in hard fury, turning brick red and gasping through his sobs. I’d collect him into my arms, fall back into the big comfy recliner, and rock while I sang to him just hoping he’d catch a breath! At first this would make him cry harder, as if he was determined to stay angry. But soon he’d start to relax, and the crying would ebb, and finally he’d breathe easy. This gentle Paul Simon song was easy to sing quietly to him and soon I sang it habitually. After a while, just hearing me sing it calmed him.

I’m reflecting on this today because tomorrow my older son, still the good-natured optimist, turns 15.

Do you have children? What songs did you sing to them?

I’ve always loved to sing. It soothes me and lifts my spirits. Read that story.


27 thoughts on “Singing to soothe my sons

  1. That’s is SO touching Jim! That is something your boys will ALWAYS remember through out their lives….dad singing to them!

    No, I never sang, I hummed. Even though I used to sing in the girls chorus and church choir, one loses their voice if it’s not kept honed. My singing would have caused more chaos than anything. So we kept it to humming.

  2. It sounds like my daughter is a mixture of your two sons. She is an inordinately happy child, but has never met a task that she does not want to conquer by herself. Climbing is among her favorites. I too admit waiting anxiously for my husband to come home so that I could pass a fussy newborn off to my husband.

    My daughter was born on the release date of Rick Springfield’s lullaby album (bet you didn’t know he made one), “My Precious Little One,” so those were always some of my favorites to sing. Another of my go-to songs is “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman.” I suspect that unless you are Catholic, you probably haven’t heard that one either. My husband began the habit of singing “Edelweiss” to my daughter at nap time, and I picked it up because it seemed so effective. My popular song repertoire just never seemed to faze her.

  3. Lone Primate says:

    LOL, when I saw the dates beside the picture of Paul Simon, I sat bolt upright for a second–“Oh, my God, he’s DEAD?? When did THAT happen!” Then I looked at the dates. 1986… wait, I’m sure he didn’t die when I was in high school. And he was born in 1971? So he did all that by the time he died at 15, younger than me? And the Mr. Spock in my head went, “Logic dictates, Captain, that these dates do not circumscribe his life, but the collection of music, of which this is the album cover.” Whew. :)

    That’s an unusual song to have chosen to soothe your son, alright. I’ve never heard it till now. Being a DJ turned you into the perfect dad for the occasion. Who knew? :)

    • With my older boy I tried song after song after song, but when I sang Don’t Let It Bring You Down it worked so well I stuck with it!

      Sorry to frighten you into momentarily thinking Paul Simon had died!

  4. One of my daughters would cry with skull-piercing wails every time we got in the car and nothing would soothe her better than me or her dad holding her foot (that was all we could reach from the front seat, especially while driving), and the Corridors by John Elefante cassette tape playing.

    I also sang a lot of a capella at night – Jesus Loves Me, The Barney Song (yes I know), the theme from the Elephant Show (skinnamarinkidinky dink, skinnamarinki doo, I love you). I taught Mackenzie how to spell her name using the Mickey Mouse Song (m a c, k e n, zeee, eye, eeeee)

  5. Laura T says:

    I don’t have kids of my own but I do have nieces and nephews. I was pretty involved with my sisters twins (now 19) and both of them liked “Sweet Baby James”. And they still remember me singing it.

    Suzie’s older son James (3) liked that one, but he loves all music to the point where he asked for a glockenspiel for Christmas. And how cute is it to hear a E year old say Glockenspiel? Trying to calm his 6 month old sister Ellie at Thanksgiving I discovered she enjoyed a Motown medley mixed with old Girl Scout camp songs. Weird.

  6. You are such a good father.

    (Memories of my time with the kids as children are rapidly fading into the mists of history. And no, memory is not the first to go!)

  7. Kurt says:

    Uh, as might be expected, Route 66 by Bobby Troupe and Back Home Again in Indiana. And they still ask for those songs the random times I end up tucking them in at night.

  8. Happy 15th to your boy! My son sounds like an even blend of yours (half Chuck Norris rage and half happy zen master). He is still one of the only people around who loves my singing voice: “You Are My Sunshine” on good days and “Fire & Rain” on bad ones :)

  9. Aw, what a good dad you are! I, too, sang to my son. In fact, I sang and rocked him to sleep every night for at least his first year — until his pediatrician advised me to stop, or he’d never learn to sleep by himself, haha! Then, because he was so used to my singing at night, he insisted I sing at least one or two short lullaby/prayers. I enjoyed bonding with him in this special way (my dad sang to me when I was a colicky baby, so I know how important that is!)

    • Thanks Debbie… I didn’t feel like a very good dad back then — the baby years were hard! I did what I had to do to survive! I’m much more natural as a dad of teens. But now that the baby days are in the past, I do treasure the memories of singing to my sons.

  10. Keith says:

    Nice post, Jim. We have two kids, a daughter age 17 and a son age 14. I tried to rock Lydia to sleep when she was a baby, but she just wanted to get in her crib and go to sleep. Joseph, on the other hand, never liked going to sleep, and the only thing that would work was me rocking him and singing “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I sang that song to him every night, numerous times, for two years.

  11. What a beautiful, touching post :) Both of my kids had colic, and singing helped them, as well. My oldest was born a month before Christmas, so I would sing the chestnuts roasting on an open fire song (I think the official title is “The Christmas Song”?). I ended up singing it to her until she was three years old. Now they are 12 and 7 and we sing together often…only now the songs are by artists like Taylor Swift and Big Time Rush.

    I totally agree with you on enjoying parenting as they get older. The memories of babyhood are precious, but there is something extra special about bonding with our kids as they begin to grow into adults.

    • Isn’t it funny what we end up singing? Circumstances dictate; habits are formed.

      I sing in the car all the time to whatever CD I’m playing. I love it when my sons join in, as they sometimes do.

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