So Sally can wait,
she knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by
Her soul slides away,
“But don’t look back in anger,”
I heard you say
I am, if nothing else, a man of my generation; I was weaned on the media and popular culture of my times, and it has very much made me who I am.
I was born into the age of the LP and 8-track. I cut my eye teeth on cassette tapes, boom boxes, and ON TV; I learned how to type on a manual typewriter, learned how to write papers on a word processor and figured out how to save on a 3.5 floppy–hell, I learned how to draw a square on a MacIntosh using something like 8 lines of code.
By the time I started my senior year in college, I had already had an email account for three and a half years, had spent enough countless hours on MUSHes, MOOs, MUDs and IRC to make most of today’s MMORPGamers shudder with bandwith envy.
The one constant through all of this was music.
Music was on when I studied, when I wrote papers, when I read books, when I watched TV, when I ran Cross Country, when I took roadtrips, when I went drinking with friends, when I got to third base for the first, second and third times, when I danced, when I cried, when I was sick, when I was watching TV (I *was* part of the MTV Generation, after all), when I cooked, when I cleaned up, when I drove, when I worked, when I was stranded on a volcanic tropical island (if only in my head, and once or twice out loud, while we were going stir crazy–until producers told us to stop singing), when each of my sons were born , when we got married and when I laid my kids down to sleep.
The first couple of nights home from the hospital after my first son was born were, in short, exhausting and nightmarish. My wife (then still Girlfriend and Baby Mama) was bearing the brunt of that pain and joy, but my part was largely consumed with calming the boy when mom had fed him and was passed out. I tried to get him to calm down, slow down and back to sleep; and, to the best of my sleep-deprived dimwit brain, the way to do that was to sing a lullaby.
I could not, for the life of me, remember any lullabies. I reached into the music filled, pop-culture files in my mind and came up with one thing, and pretty much one thing only–a Dean Martin/Ricky Nelson song from a John Wayne movie:
The sun is sinking in the west,
The cattle go down to the stream;
The red wing settles in the nest,
It’s time for a cowboy to dream.
Purple light in the canyons,
That’s where I long to be;
With my three good companions
Just my rifle, pony and me..
But could I remember the song correctly? Of course not. What I sang (and still sing) was this:
The sun is setting in the west,
the cattle’s gone to stream; I’m taking off my vest,
Ev’ry cowboy needs to dream.
Little bird on my shoulder,
sings a sweet melody;
riding high to Amarillo
Just my rifle, pony and me…
Now, to be fair, I seemed to have borrowed from later verses in the song, but what I came up with was a pop-culture pastiche of memory, love and desperation. It worked. It worked all through Li’l D’s early years (and from time to time today), but when it came to my second kid, Littler J, I had to…draw from more recent memory.
My wife had been, for the most part, putting our kid down for the last year or so of his existence. I’d been working pretty much non-stop for the last eight months, sixty to seventy hour work weeks with a few gaps here and there since he was born; in all of that time, he’d been falling asleep at the wheel (read: “Boob”) or being put to sleep by day care professionals, or on grandma’s ample bosom. Dad just kinda…changed a diaper here and there, worked a bottle into him and laid him down.
Then, he had a brain explosion and daddy got an extended hiatus.
Laying a toddler down for a nap and bed is no joke. They are singularly equipped to shred both your heart and your nerves, all at once. And they scream.
Holy shit they scream.
Usually, when he went to sleep, J would get mom cooing the soft, lovely words to “Baby Mine” from Dumbo, or “Kookaburra” or “You Are My Sunshine” or “Mocking Bird.” With Dad, he got a rushed, tripped up rendition of a mis-remembered Dean Martin throw away song; naturally, he wailed on my shoulder, and for another half hour before he fell to sleep.
Then the day came that daddy was listening to Tom Waits in the AM.
I went to put J down one morning, barely knowing my own name. He was clearly ready for a nap, but not quite ready to go down. He needed a lullaby. I reached for something, and all I came up with was
Makes it kind of quiver down in the core
‘Cause you’re dreamin’ of them Saturdays that came before
And now you’re stumblin’
You’re stumblin’ onto the heart of Saturday night
Products of my age.
Tonight my big one was busy “winding down” for bed, jumping around, excited over his second day of school and having had TV and computer time in the same waking stretch. I had been cooking in the kitchen, trying to get ready for another day.
“You want to sing him one more song and lay him down, Hon?”
I hummed the theme song to M*A*S*H*, which I’d sung to him earlier today; sure, it’s a bit morose, but it worked: The words weren’t important, just the feeling.
J fussed and stirred in my arms, not really soothed this time.
I reached back in my mental machine, found a moment, a moment of dancing, of love, and of memory. I smiled, and breathed into my little one’s ear
Slip inside the eye of your mind
Don’t you know you might find
A better place to play
You said that you’d never been
All the things that you’ve seen
Will slowly fade away
He melted into my arms, into my shoulder, and for a moment I thought to myself “This is how lullabies are now; this is how we love through song now.”
I patted his back, sang into his ear and waited for my soul to slide away.