You feed your children. You clothe your children. You wash them, dress them, protect them, read to them, and send them to school. All well, necessary, and commendable.
But do you sing to them?
Perhaps you misunderstood me. I did not ask if you turn on the radio, plug in your iPod, or throw on a CD. I’m talking about actually making musical sounds with your voice in the presence of your offspring.
Growing up, I remember my mother and father singing all the time around the house. My father sang as he was getting ready for work in the morning; sang in the shower, and sometimes would just spontaneously break out into song whenever the mood struck him. My mother sang us to sleep, sang to comfort us, sang to make us laugh, and, like my father, sometimes sang for no good reason other than she just felt like it.
As I’m typing this, my mind is racing back in time. I can see and hear my father singing “Up, Up, and Away” while shaving in front of the mirror in the bathroom of the apartment where we lived in Chicago. I can see and hear my mother singing “Scarlet Ribbons” as my sister and I were getting ready for bed – again, in that same Chicago apartment. So many songs, so many wonderful memories. I could fill a book with them.
My parents sang many of the songs from their own childhoods, as well as some of the popular songs of the 1960’s and 70’s. My father sang Civil War tunes, Spike Jones songs (“Der Fuhrer’s Face”, “Behind Those Swinging Doors”), songs from movies (“More”, “The Shadow of Your Smile”) as well as classics such as “Daisy Belle”, “In My Merry Oldsmobile”, and “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” My mother, who was blessed with a beautiful voice and sang with a band, would croon a lot of 40’s and 50’s songs such as “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, “Oh Johnny”, and “If You Knew Susie”, to mention a few. She sang kid-friendly tunes like “The Mulberry Bush” and “Did You Ever See a Lassie?” and folk tunes like “Shenandoah” and “Buffalo Gals”. She sang novelty tunes such as “I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in An Onion Patch” and radio show theme songs such as “It Pays to Be Ignorant”. She even sang the Chiquita Banana commercial jingle.
Now I’m quite certain that my mom and dad did not wake up every morning and think, “What can I sing today that my son is going to remember all his life and years later can write about in a blog?” I have no doubt that both my folks were singing just to express their joy. But they didn’t realize that I was listening and remembering.
And what was the result of all this parental singing? Well, for starters, I have a brain as full of song as a cornucopia is of fruit. I have songs for every occasion that I can trot out at a moment’s notice without needing to have the words in front of me – a heaven-sent asset for any musical entertainer. When I sing some of these songs for senior citizens, I can see the light of recognition in their eyes and the joy on their faces as I, no doubt, stimulate a few memories of their own. I can sing “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going to eat some worms” to children and watch the looks on their faces when I ask, “Who wants to eat a worm?”
I also have an appreciation for a wide variety of music. My cornucopia of song consists of country-western, bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll, pop, movie tunes, Broadway show tunes, TV show theme songs, commercial jingles, folk, and even songs in foreign languages.
But most of all, I have a lifetime of cherished childhood memories that adds another facet to the love I feel for my mom and dad. All it takes is for someone to sing or hum a few bars of one of my folks’ songs, and I’m a carefree child once again.
They say that “little pitchers have big ears.” Well, with what do we want to fill those ears? Electronic Pablum to make them crazy? Or songs from our hearts that we sing to express joy and that will make them smile and laugh and give them wonderful childhood memories?
So by all means, sing to your children. And for heaven’s sake, don’t worry about whether or not you have a good voice. I promise you, your children won’t care. Sing rock ‘n’ roll songs. Sing silly songs. Sing anything as long as it makes you happy. You’ll be strengthening the ties that bind and giving your children a precious gift that they’ll carry with them all their lives.
Music is the food of love. So serve generous helpings.