When she was just a week old, and I was awash in post-partum hormones and breastfeeding horribleness and my maternal self-esteem was in the toilet and I wondered who was this creature who had invaded my life, I made up a little song about how much I loved her and how she was my one and only baby girl. I sang it to her every day as I held her on the couch after those early-morning feedings, hoping that by singing it over and over again, I would begin to believe it. (And eventually, I did.) I stopped singing it after a couple months, but to this day, if I sing the first few lines, Bat Girl cocks her head inquisitively, as if in recognition.
When she was a few weeks old and still spending half the night awake, I paced the living room floor for hours, humming snatches of lullabies to try to get her to sleep. (Our preferred and most effective method, blasting rock music--something about the drumbeats worked like magic--is not practical in an apartment building at 3 a.m.) I couldn't remember any of the words to "Hush Little Baby," and got tired of just humming, so I eventually started singing old standards--"Night and Day," "What'll I Do," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm"--appropriateness be damned. And actually, if you sing a torch song in a low register with a baby curled up on your chest, the vibration of your throat and chest and stomach works pretty well to get her to sleep.
When I went back to work, I'd come home exhausted but then have to figure out some way to entertain Bat Girl for the two hours left until her bedtime. (My husband, worn-out SAHD, would hand her over to me and then collapse on the couch in front of the Simpsons.) I'd change into sweats and then plop down on the bed with her for a chat. Eventually, I started singing random folk songs--"This Land Is Your Land," "You Are My Sunshine," "Oh Susannah"--which she loved. I'd lay her on her back and pedal her little legs to the beat, and she'd smile and kick.
At some point it became clear that "You Are My Sunshine" was her favorite. Bat Girl could be full-on wailing, but if I laid her down and started singing "You Are My Sunshine," she would stop, stare at me wide-eyed, and then begin squealing and kicking like it was Christmas and ice cream and ponies all wrapped up in one. She'd get a huge smile on her face and start almost panting in excitement, and then she'd wave her arms in the air (which, since she didn't have much muscle control, entailed lifting her little shoulders so each arm would flop around in an uncontrolled fashion) and kick like crazy. There was literally nothing I did that made her happier than "You Are My Sunshine."
Yesterday I wanted to capture the happy flailing on film, so I had my husband hold the camera as I sang to her. She looked at the camera, then gave me a little smile and a sideways look as if to say, "Yeah Mommy, I don't do that flailing shit anymore. I'm a GROWNUP baby now."
And really, I should have seen it coming. She still likes to be sung to, but "You Are My Sunshine" no longer lights up her world in quite the same way. And it makes me a little sad, a little nostalgic already. Because someday, probably many somedays when she's hurt and unhappy, I know I'll look back fondly on the times when all I had to do to fill her with delight was sing.