Music, Stories told

Singing to soothe my sons

I have three sons — a stepson pushing 30 and two teens. I’ve been thinking back on their lives as one of my sons turns 18 today and is making transitions toward his adult life.

I was there when the younger two boys entered the world. I did my best to be a good dad to my baby boys, and my fatherly duties naturally 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, both of them 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 make sure everybody around me does too,” and then set about making it so. He filled his days with big smiles for everyone who caught his gaze. He encountered everything – toy, television show, meal, our dog, other children – with such joy and delight you’d think it was long lost and beloved.

Yet colic plagued him the first nine months of his life. He’d start to feel bad by late afternoon each day, and 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 to seek relief.

Now, I cared about my poor son’s suffering. But honestly, I mostly just wanted his eardrum-piercing shrieks to end. 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. So 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 mountain-climber sights on the couch’s arm, then the side table, and then the side-table’s 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 outpaced his abilities at first. 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.

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


If this story sounds familiar, it’s because I first posted it in 2012.

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18 thoughts on “Singing to soothe my sons

  1. Jim Cavanaugh says:

    I sung to my 3 kids as well. When I was little, I used to play a Bing Crosby record of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic. It was a great song to sing to little ones. I also sang Maresy Dates, which my mother used to sing to me. Mine are probably the last children on earth to have those songs sung to them.

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  2. George Denzinger says:

    I have two adult daughters, like you say each was different from one another. While I was extremely lucky that neither one suffered from colic, sometimes colds, teething, and the other normal growing pains would cause the kids to cry. Like you, I had some songs to sing to them. My younger daughter was an old Robin Trower song called “Carmen” which is her name. With my older daughter, we’d serenaded her in the womb with “You Are My Sunshine”, and it was effective song to calm her down even after she was born.

    Lately she’s been in a real arts and crafts mode, so she made her first needlepoint as a Christmas gift for us. It was a framed needlepoint of the lyrics of “You Are My Sunshine”….

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  3. hmunro says:

    What a lovely and tender post, Jim — and how sweet to consider that maybe one day your sons will remember those moments and sing to their children, too.

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  4. Keith M says:

    Our son is on the autism spectrum, and when he was a baby he always had a hard time getting to sleep. One thing that worked was me rocking him and singing “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. I rocked and sang that song to him every night for over two years.

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  5. Nancy ( Roe ) Stewart says:

    My mother sang You Are My Sunshine to me, I sang it to my children, and also my grandchildren. A year ago last Christmas Tammy gave me a bracelet that says My Only Sunshine and she has a matching one that says You Are My Sunshine. I haven’t taken mine off since she gave it to me. It is a connection between my mother, myself, my children and my grandchildren.

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