Half Year

They say, “Enjoy it while it lasts.” They usually follow it up with, “And it doesn’t last long.”

I’m doing my best.

Lulla-cry Baby

I’m not so good with the lullabies. They are comforting, even to me, but also to my daughter—I guess that’s just the point. Still, the comfort comes from having them sung to you; as the singer I found quickly that my memories of the melodies were sharp, the lyrics not as much. As an audience you find solace in the intent underneath the lyrics, the softly sung choruses in whispered verse. Memorization of the poetry on top is far from mandatory. So I struggle with various on-the-spot mumblings and half-remembered couplets. Often times I find myself sticking with a single refrain, usually something simple like “Kum Ba Ya,” riffing on the tune with a stream-of-consciousness sort of babble that only half makes sense. Fortunately, we chose a name that rhymes with and matches syllables with “baby.”

The difficult part of singing lullabies isn’t the lyrics, though. That’s just the part that makes them awkward. The difficult part is that many of the standards, “Lullaby and Good-Night,” “Twinkle, Twinkle,” etc are in keys that aren’t readily hit by whispered singers. I have no delusions that my singing is stage-worthy or even publicly acceptable, but I love to sing. I’ll make up silly songs for no reason whatsoever and belt them out as I wash dishes or take a shower or drive along a nighttime road. Catapulting dippy made-up songs into the air is fun and fairly easy, but trying to maintain a sense of steady melody at a low, sleep-inducing volume is… not.

Sometimes the variations of song and lyric are clearly not for my daughter’s edification. She seems just as happy if I iterate endlessly over “Hush Little Baby” but there are so many songless Mockingbirds and clumsy horses I can promise to her before I start to go a little batty. On one night in question I’d exhausted my supply of lullabies but not my child. I continued to rock her gently in my arms and grasped clumsily at something to continue with, afraid in that deluded panicky state you enter as a parent of an infant that something you are doing, have done or are about to do will cause a startled awakening accompanied by the requisite wail of newborn anguish. Lacking any true inspiration I began to improvise on a hoarse, practically tuneless little melody that was half “You Are My Sunshine” and half “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The lyrics were standard lullaby fare: Blissful slumber, promises of new days tomorrow, reassurances of parental protection, simple exclamations of steadfast love and devotion, non-sequiturs for the sake of rhyming couplets. The difference, as near as I can tell, is that instead of struggling to excavate long-forgotten lyrics from the depths of my brain, I was expressing in the first person my affection for the sleepless and thrashing babe I rocked like an exhausted pendulum. It was far from the first time I’d ever made such thoughts and feelings known to her, but be it the inherent weariness or the structure of song or perhaps just the fact that it actually worked as intended, lulling her steadily into the desired state of calm and rest I’d been working on so diligently, the result was unexpected.

I’m not, by nature, an emotionally charged sort of person. At least I don’t perceive myself as such. My default mode tends to be a sort of mildly bemused observer, occasionally drifting into moderate crankiness or a slightly softened compassion. The range is fairly short between the extremes of my moods. I don’t really get hopping mad very often. I don’t have very many moments of unbridled joy. And I definitely don’t find myself moved to tears with any kind of regularity. I didn’t even cry when Callie was born, though I went into the experience fully expecting to. It surprised me when I discovered that instead of being moved I was simply overwhelmed and sort of terrified which resulted in me entering a kind of semi-robotic state.

But in this case, I watched my little girl open and close her tiny mouth a few times, slowly, as if tasting the air around her, drinking in my song. I saw her beautiful eyes flutter closed and stay shut. I felt her nuzzle just slightly closer to my arm with the croaking sound of my stupid and now forgotten song, the tears fell.

The First First

I don’t put much stock in “Firsts,” at least not the way it seems many parents do. And okay, I have no data to back this up but I suspect it is principally a “mother” thing. At least the tracking portion of it in cute little books that look suspiciously like low-rent scrapbooks to me. If I had to wager I’d say the demarcation of “firsts” originated with dads as a means of injecting some competition into child rearing.

Anyway, maybe I should put some stock into it because perhaps developmentally those milestones are more significant than I give them credit for. To me, though, it feels like our daughter’s firsts are hardly forebears of new chapters in her life. She has consistently displayed a propensity for various actions and achievements only to promptly discard the activity once mastered as if to say, “Check. What’s next?” Her first smile, her first head lift, her first babbled vocalization, her first object grasped from curiosity (as opposed to reflex) are all lost to the haze of overwhelming change and adjustment that has characterized the last six months.

But I do recall the first time I heard her laugh like a little person.

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