When my mother died, I wrote and read one of the eulogies at the funeral. It was the single most difficult thing I've ever had to do. In my sentiments to the congregation, I related the story of how she used to sing to me, and that I intended to do the same for my children. It is just this week, almost twelve years after her death, that the implications of those sentiments finally have sunken in.
When Sam was born, I made a mix tape. It contained a list of songs that I wanted him to know, to enjoy, to smile with, to remember his father by in such circumstances that I might not be around to teach him.
Here is the play list:
The Beatles - Yellow Submarine
The Playmates - Beep, Beep
Joanie Mitchell - Oh Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz
Patti Page - The Doggie in the Window
Guys & Dolls Soundtrack - Got the Horse Right Here
Kermit the Frog - It's Not Easy Being Green
Billy Joel - The Longest Time
James Taylor - My Romance
Glenn Miller - Over There
Peter, Paul & Mary - Puff the Magic Dragon
BJ Thomas - Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head
Elvis Presley - Return to Sender
The Beatles - Rocky Raccoon
The Beach Boys - Surfer Girl
Bing Crosby - Swingin' on a Star
Soundtrack to Peter Pan - Tender Shepherd
The Andrews Sisters - Three Little Fishes
The Carpenters - Top of the World
Sam Cooke - What a Wonderful World
Frank Sinatra - High Hopes
Billy Joel - Ballad of Billy the Kid
The Muppets - Movin' Right Along
Sesame Street - Rubber Ducky
Guys & Dolls Soundtrack - Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat
James Taylor - Up on the Roof
David Wilcox - Rusty Old American Dream
Harry Connick - Heavenly
Bobby Darin - Mack the Knife
John Denver - Gramma's Feather Bed
The Beatles - When I'm 64
They aren't the most popular songs of all time, but they are fun and easy to sing. Most of all, I hoped Sam would remember them the way I remember the songs my mother used to sing to me. When Noah and Aidan were born, I expanded the list some to include a bunch more. They were infinitely more difficult to put to sleep than Sam, whether it be the dynamic duo twin stereotype or just that they had more they wanted to do each day, I don't know. But I ended up singing more to them than I did Sam.
As a parent, when you are strung out from lack of sleep, you resort to measures that might not be considered among the wisest courses of action. When my library of kids' songs was depleted, many of the songs that I ended up incorporating were Sea Chanties and Irish drinking songs. All the songs that I used to sing on Monday night boozings at the Griswold Inn before any of them were born. Before you judge, think long and hard on just what lengths you would go to in order to make your children fall asleep peacefully, rather than bounding and gagging them into submission every night.
In the years since, I sing less and less than I did when they were all infants. They want stories read to them. They get to stay up late for special nights. There just isn't as much time for songs. I'm not sad about this. There are so many more things we share, that they experience - none of it I regret.
I also have taught myself rudimentary guitar. I know enough to be a danger to myself, especially when I've had too much to drink. Then I'm a rock star. But the boys love it when I play. And sing.
A few times each month, when we have a little extra time, I will break out my instrument and sing songs with novice accompaniment for my sons. They are not the songs that are included in the playlist above. Damn James Taylor and his finger picking to hell. They are the Sea Chanties and Drinking Songs.
And last night, when I sat down on our bed to sing to my boys, for the first time, they all sang along with me. Not Yellow Submarine. Not How Much is that Doggie in the Window. No, we all sang this:
They sang so loud that Leah crept down the hallway and peeked her head in just to watch them. And when Jack Duggan was shot by the troopers, Aidan and Noah grabbed their chests and fell backward on the quilt. At that moment, I realized that they will remember that song when I have long since fertilized daisies. That, my friends, is what this life is all about.