Most nights, as the lights go out, my boys will request that I sing them a song.
Not just any song, mind you, but from a catalog of random songs that I’ve sung to them since I first rocked them to sleep the day they were born.
We’ve added a few over the years, but most of these were, from the start, their songs.
The old Civil War era song Cindy Cindy tops the list. They especially love the verse:
I wish I was an apple
a’hangin’ on a tree
and every time my Cindy passed
she’d take a bite of me!
And then there’s the hymn Abide with Me, a lullaby for the very young, or the very old, to entrust them to the Divine.
They’re also a big fan of I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, which tests my ability to remember multiple verses in a row at breakneck speed. The faster the better.
And then a little socialist, hippy tune I picked up from my summers romping through Pennsylvania, Calling All the Children Home by John McCutcheon. They especially love this one because I’ve included their names in the final verse, and they claim I wrote it just for them.
But here’s the thing: I don’t sing to them to get them to fall asleep.
I sing to them so that they’ll sing.
I sing to them so that they know that men sing, and sing well, and sing in public, and sing tender songs as well as fun songs.
Their mom sings to them, too, of course. Lullaby by the Dixie Chicks is what they ask from her most. And they love it.
Because singing with your children, to your children, not only teaches them that it’s OK to sing, but it also teaches them the amazing thing that happens when you sing to and with someone else: a special bond is formed.
And what has happened because of all this singing?
My five (almost six) year old sings to himself in the shower, and it’s great to hear from outside the door. He knows the joy of song, and acoustics, and is figuring it all out.
My four year old sings along with every song on the radio, and listening to his voice is one of the most amazing things because it’s so neat to hear him pick up notes and complicated lines at a young age. He’s learning to try, at least. And that is something that can’t be taught overnight…it takes a while. Years of singing.
They ask me to put on my records, and they sit and listen to whole albums. They not only know how to listen to music and sing along, but they’re starting to appreciate music. They’ll listen to a song and give an opinion now.
And in a culture where music and the arts are disappearing from classrooms in deference to STEM curriculum, I want them to get this in their bones now so that they’ll be able to do it on their own later.
But, also, I sing to my boys because I like singing. And just like any parent, I want to share the joy of the art with them, so that they can know what it truly is to be human in this world of growing automation.
I sing to my boys…and you should too. Whether you have the vocal chops of a lark or a loon, sing. Teach them to sing.
Because to be human is to sing. And it is divine.