Lullabies and other bedtime rituals

I wonder if our kids remember the lullabies we sang to them when they were small, cute, warm and smelled of Johnson’s talc?

Did those songs make them quiet and relaxed and ready for sleep? Or was it us, as mums who were getting the most out of it? Was it just simply another expression of mother lurve?

My own memories are not so much of lullabies but of trapping mater into a tradition which probably hardened her arteries considerably. I had not one lullabye but two… and they had to be sung in order. And then when the thin lady stopped singing and left with several “Night nights” and I’d heard her reach the bottom of the stairs… I’d call out “Can I have a handkerchief please?”

Every night, the bedtime routine was long and if I could possibly protract it, I did. I remember it with fondness. I love little intimate traditions. I recognised and enjoyed the rasp of mum’s gritted teeth as she sang my songs at triple speed. The ability to set up that kind of irritation glues you to the other person as surely as Unibond.

Mater on the other hand, remembers me as an annoying demanding little tyke who would never settle at bedtime without a series of rites but she had the charm to at least acknowledged that by giving in to my demands, it was all her fault and she actually did create a rod for her own back.

The routine was bathroom, then bed with a story or more if I could swing it. I always recognised when she skipped a couple of paragraphs, which also annoyed her.

Then she’d sing “Down by the Station Early in the Morning” followed by “Mud Mud Glorious Mud.” I have no idea whatsoever why Flanders and Swann took such a seminal role in my early childhood but I loved it, especially the “Follow me follow… down to the hollow… and there we shall wallow… in glorious mud.” I mean, who wouldn’t find that a tremendously exciting proposition? Oh…. really? Just me then.

Discussing it some years later, she revealed the full extent of the mental damage.

“Sometimes I’d have to go back upstairs to you seven times! You were a little sod for going to bed. There was always something else… water… handkerchief… too light… too dark, too hot, too cold…. It’s a wonder I didn’t murder you in your bed.”

So it was against this poignant, cosy background that I set up whole new rituals with my own kids to cement their security, happiness and hone their manipulative skills.

The first mistake was allowing that exquisite chubby little baby fist that extended through the bars of the cot to clutch my finger. It seemed sooo sweet… until I realised this was a form of Vulcan Death Grip imposed by helpless infant. There was NO getting away….not without child waking up and wailing again.

So I sang a little lullaby instead. ‘Goodnight’ by the Beatles seemed touching and appropriate and did the trick. But then it was a matter of escaping a room with creaky floors, so it was Two Giant Steps to the window, taking care to follow the line of the hidden joists… and then I’d flatten myself spreadeagled against the wall like spiderman and edge around the perimeter of the room, tippy-toeing tight up against the skirting board, achieving a silent, professionally-covert exit.

No2 son was dead easy in comparison but loved stories and like me, recognised immediately when a Short Cut had been made.  Actually, it was total pleasure for us both because I liked reading them, especially Roald Dahl rhymes and books. Dahl wrote with a rhythm and such humour that it’s still a treat to read and to hear.

My own father was never a part of bedtime routines. Capt Sensible had been a deprived child in Africa with only monkeys and chameleons to play with and no memories of bedtime routines. Consequently, he totally over-compensated with our own boys and upped the ante at bedtime.

He created Oscar the Pig, a renegade porker who was always escaping and having adventures. He would always end up running into the distance (strong Pigling Bland influence) as the sun went down over the horizon – cue gradual turning down of dimmer switch. It was, I have to admit, an absolute blinder of a bedtime routine.. but a really hard act to follow.

If Capt Sensible wasn’t around, I’d be floundering with my plot lines varying from bland (pigling) to psychotically damaging with Oscar down the shops, Oscar being chased by a butcher with a chainsaw, Oscar at the abbatoir…

“What’s an abbatoir?”

“Its a place where… oh never mind, forget that. Oscar’s being chased by the Billy Goats Gruff…they are all racing after him at top speed..with their sharp horns. Oscar is worried about his wobbly porky bottom!”

“But thats a *different* story. And the Billy Goats Gruff were nice…!”

“Yes they started off nice but they were negatively influenced by the bad troll under the bridge and went postal…. “

You get my drift. It was difficult. I just didn’t hit the mark as an off-the-cuff storyteller. I was much better with lullabies, although it’s a moot point whether the kids remember anything about my nocturnal warblings.

In the meantime, I’m going to revisit Mud Mud Glorious Mud. I might even get Ted from the bottom of the wardrobe.  I know he wouldn’t want to miss it.

It’s ok.  I joined in too.  You have to. It’s the law.

Any other favourite lullabies out there? Do post if there are.   🙂

About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
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16 Responses to Lullabies and other bedtime rituals

  1. Jane Parry says:

    Ok it’s official u are stark raving bonkers woman!!!!!! But in a good way x x

  2. IsobelandCat says:

    I was in your camp. I used to think up longer and longer ways of saying goodnight. My mother would be going down the stairs as I continued all my sweet dreams, see you in the morning, sleep tight, can i have some water litany. She bought me a carafe.
    My father used to read us bedtime stories. Noddy mostly. My sister got a whole book. By the time I arrived, he cut it down to half. I used to correct him if he got a word wrong. Eventually learned to read it for my self.
    My friend’s son, now in his twenties, was terrible for feeding or going to sleep. We used to sing rounds to him. He would give in under the combined assault. I learned a lot of French nursery rhymes in that time, my friend being French…

  3. janh1 says:

    Laughing here at our similarities, Isobel! Twins separated at birth??!! 🙂

    “He would give in under the combined assault” made me snort with mirth. Thing is, the more infants empathetically know that you’re getting impatient, the worse it gets…!

  4. Pingback: Letter From Britain « Kate Shrewsday

  5. The rituals were the same in our household. The Beatles’ song you posted, “Good Night,” was one I sometimes played to my girls at bedtime on my guitar (poorly, I confess). I loved that song. Thank you for the memories.

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Judy. Aww, so great that we have a shared lullaby. Glad this provoked some good memories. We could have created a dodgy duet! 🙂
      I still play it on the piano, from Ye Olde Compleat Beatles Songbook.

      • “Jan” (?) … That duet might have gotten our continents a-rockin’. 😆
        I did have a Beatles Songbook for piano. I’m hoping I passed it on to my grandkids. A friend reminded me of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy.” Another gorgeous song. I’d have sung that, too, but I had two daughters.

      • janh1 says:

        Yes, it’s Jan, J or Janie, as mother used to call me. Continents a-rockin? The Atlantic rising up in protest, more like! 😀
        I’d forgotten about that song, written for Sean wasn’t it? Lovely!

        I like this too. A pal introduced me to Shriekback.. too late for my own kids..

  6. O Zangado says:

    Yoo hoo Janh. Good to see you are still around. Greetings from The Cave. 🙂


    • janh1 says:

      Hey OZ 🙂 How lovely of you to call in. Putting kettle on and getting out Welsh cakes!
      Hope you are ticketty-boo and still surrounded by prime mountainbiking country!!

      I’m not going anywhere soon. Got two cats now though…great company. Fat Lily was only two minutes ago kneading my lap painfully through a too-thin dressing gown….

  7. Jan, I’m, late, I’m so sorry. But what a wonderful post. You made me laugh because Felix is the one who comes down to get drinks and hot water bottles and anything else he can use to prolong the delicious hours of bedtime. My favourite: I don’t have a song because my parents were folk singers and singing has always felt a bit like a busman’s holiday. But stories? The Hobbit’s my all-time fave….

  8. janh1 says:

    Hi Kate 🙂 Aha. Felix is exercising his manipulation skills. But perhaps it’s about testing one’s comfort and security… I think it was with me. Yes the Hobbit was read aloud to son #1 here too but fortunately he went on to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy himself! 😀

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