I think that most parents have a special little song they sing with their children. Maybe it’s a tune they made up using their baby’s name, maybe it’s a favorite soothing lullaby, maybe it’s a silly song they learned as a child themselves. I know that my husband, Shiloh, and I had a very special song that we sang to our oldest son, Solon. We started before he was even born and we continued well into the preschool days. It was always the same song that would soothe his boo-boos and help him fall asleep and ease the pain of long car trips……….a tender, heartfelt lullaby:
“The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers.
See, nothing says “Parents of The Year” like a lullaby that includes a dozen references to illegal gambling, glorifies whiskey-drinking, and fondly recalls someone dying in his sleep. Aaaaah, the golden memories of childhood………..
It all started in a moment of pre-natal, hormone-induced weepiness. I was reading a baby book one night (like every night the previous 16 months) when I realized, in a rush of horror, that my husband was not bonding with our fetus! He couldn’t know the beauty and awe of growing a brand-new human being inside yourself! He didn’t get to share the kicks and hiccups that were an endearing reminder of the bond I shared with our unborn child. He didn’t even get to experience the vomiting and heartburn that made the whole thing so magical. So, I turned to him in tears and loudly cried, “You never sing to the baby!” At which point, I dissolved into ugly sobs of accusation.
Shiloh sighed and gave me a loving look pf patient bewilderment. His smile said “I love you, crazy woman.” but his eyes said “I have no idea what’s happening right now.” Anyway, he weighed his options, took a deep breath, leaned in towards my huge belly, and started singing…………”On a warm summer’s eve, on a train bound for nowhere………” And he proceeded to sing the entire song, verses, chorus, and all. It was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. You have to remember, Shiloh is the least musical person I have ever met. I don’t even know how we ended up together. He can’t clap the beat to a song even if I hold his hands and clap them for him. He constantly leaves my car radio tuned to a country station. And he knows the words to exactly 3 songs:
1. The Gambler
2. Amen (which technically only has one word)
3. Silent Night
(He thinks he knows the words to “On Wisconsin” too, but you really only need the first four words to this song, the rest is just fist-pumping.)
So, the fact that he choose The Gambler to be Solon’s theme song is no real commentary on his feelings about impending parenthood. It was the most appropriate song he knows. And it’s beautiful. We sang it to Solon each night before he was born and we sang it at the hospital on his first day of life. I rocked him to sleep hundreds of times with that song. I could feel his tense little body melt into my arms every time I started singing. I would sing the song at the top of my lungs as he screamed in his car seat on long trips. The Gambler was HIS song. We tried using it on Gage a few years later, but it backfired. Cuz every time I tried to sing Gage to sleep with it, Solon would join in loudly from the other room and scare the baby. So Gage got a rotating succession of Indigo Girls tunes for his lullaby.
Anyway………..the boys got older. My hormones let up. Naptime become a non-battle. Gradually The Gambler faded out of use.
But earlier this summer, as my extended family sat around the campfire at the lake house, Shiloh started singing The Gambler. Loudly. It was totally out of the blue. (Actually, it was out of a woodsmoke and beer-induced spiral descent into well-deserved vacation mode). The adults all smiled, remembering nostalgically those baby days. The days of walking the floors with a feverish baby or rocking a little one to sleep when the rest of the world was already sleeping. But, by the time Shiloh had reached the first chorus that night by the campfire, Solon had joined in! I think he surprised himself by knowing all the words to a song he doesn’t ever remember hearing. It triggered something buried deep in his 10-year-old memory. He had that same bewildered look on his face of “I have no idea what’s happening right now” that Shiloh gave me all those years back.
Shiloh and Solon went on lie together in the hammock and sing the song at least 20 more times at the top of their lungs. I’m sure all the lake neighbors appreciated it. I don’t know because I went to bed after the second round. But the fact that I could sleep with all that howling going on speaks to the power of The Gambler………