By Julia Soto Lebentritt
On the Amtrak train the woman behind us sang all kinds of rhymes and songs to her cranky child: Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake the mother on the bus, says hush, hush, hush, for three hours from Albany to New York City engaging her child with song and conversation.
On the "F" train in Manhattan, we saw a restless child crying and a mother and father who did not respond with comforting lullabies. The father was trying to reason with the small girl and threatening to use his hand. Many upset faces turned their way in the car delayed at West 4th Street. Old injuries, abuse, lack of response that nurtures love and care in the first relationship troubled these faces. Everyone held their breath as the child screamed and the parents froze.
One little boy asked his mother why they didnt sing to the child.
"They forgot," his mother attempted to explain.
Yes, I was thinking as I watched and remembered other mothers and fathers cuddling, talking to, and walking their babies in the multitude of apartments, day care centers, nurseries, bedrooms where I have recorded lullaby traditions. There is loss of memory of the traditions, oral and physical, that helped generation after generation relate, survive, love, and give rest and laughter.
When author Toni Morrison researched slavery, a question formed in her mind: "There wasn't regular information. Something untold, unsaid never came down. There was some deliberate, calculated, survivalist intention to forget certain things. For example, there was no reference to the slave ships. No songs, or stories about the trauma...."
As I researched lullabies, a question formed in my mind. Where is the understanding of the lullaby genre? There is something being lost. There is a deliberate trivialization of lullabies.
Lullabies function to create a healthy safe attachment so that all that goes with the lullaby, the process of time, the ritual steps, the song melody, rhythm, imagery, the singing and story voice is internalized, and the baby can let go, go-to-sleep, be alone without the mother's voice, body, lap, breasts.... The baby can then feel the certaintypeace to sleep--and the predictability that a care giving experiencemother/day/lullabies--will always come back.
This bonding between the lullaby singer and baby is the model for how the individual will react to unfamiliar and stressful situations in the future, and a basis for all future relationships and learning.
Around the world, this is the role of songs and stories. They are tools used to create safetyfirst attachments with newborns. People dismiss lullabies because they forget. They hear mediated productions of commercial versions. And the people themselves forget how to sing. They forget their voice. They disregard even their personal voice, the voice that bonds with the child, not the recorded voices.
As a collector and researcher of lullabies, I find that the functions of lullabies have been seriously minimized. So much so, that the lullabies are becoming like worn down stones in the rivers of time. Their messages and meanings, about women's traditions, childcare practices and home education of children are lost in the sand of too many producers', collectors', and outsiders' versions.
Carlos Drummond de Andrade writes in his poem Infancia of a voice that had learned to sing us to sleep long ago in the slave quarters, and had never been forgotten.... I have never forgotten a single voice of the many that have contributed to this special research project, especially my sisters and Moms.