For the longest time, I had no trouble singing my grandkids to sleep. It seemed that, no matter how hard they fought bedtime, I would finally stumble vocally onto that one tune that, when sung over and over, would induce the desired effect. One time it was the ever-circular motion of "The Wheels on the Bus" that did the trick; another time they wound down as the monotonous ticking of "My Grandfather's Clock" quieted them with its haunting, hypnotic melody.
Lately, however, it has been more of a challenge to find that one magic song. The problem is, the kids have learned most of my bedtime songs, and they insist on staying awake to sing them with me. When you consider that this is happening at the end of the day when I am pretty well worn and ragged, you may grasp the scope and seriousness of my predicament.
I will be the first to admit that it was cute at first. These are the children of music professionals, so there is no shortage of innate musical talent at work here, even at the tender ages of two and three. I have learned not to take it personally that they actually sound better than I do. I have tried not to take it personally that they have less trouble remembering all those lyrics than I do.
Night before last, I thought I was finally going to have to admit defeat. We were at the stage where I was bone-weary and hoarse and hardly able to hold my head up. They, on the other hand, still teemed with musical life. I would only start a song, one I thought they might not remember, when they would take it over and go for the encore. If I had stopped singing entirely, I seriously doubt if they'd have noticed.
What saved my life that night was a song I reached way back into the '70s for, and where the words came from, I don't know, since I have successfully managed to forget most of what I was doing in the '70s. But there they were, pouring out of my mouth like honey, sweet and thick and sticky and absolutely irresistible. More importantly, they were pouring out against a backdrop of complete and utter silence. Hard to believe as it was and still is, Sooby and Pooh were entirely captivated by James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James."
I can't help wondering what they were thinking. Did this young cowboy look like Woody from Toy Story? Was he supposed to be thinking about women and glasses of beer? What are dogies? Who is this Sweet Baby James anyway? What is a Berkshire, and why is there frosting on it? What flavor is the frosting?
Actually, I doubt if they thought any of these things. Rather, I think they were mesmerized by the poetry and simple, soothing melody of this gentle lullaby Taylor composed in 1969 while enroute to meet his baby nephew and namesake. I could speculate that, even some forty years later, these children recognized, as the original Baby James must have, the perfect blending of words and music into a masterpiece that quietly celebrates the power of song and its capacity to soothe and calm the restless human spirit. But here is what I know for sure: there was not a peep out of either child from the time I began the song, and somewhere during the third time through, they both slipped off into the deep greens and blues of their own sweet dreams.
Pulling the door to their room shut, I waited to hear the soft click of the latch. Then, I smiled my way down the hall to my own bedroom. Good night, you moonlight babies, I thought. You have about ten miles behind you and ten thousand more to go.