0ppFdECFor the first few years I sang our son lullabies, I was very intentional about him only hearing church hymns. We’d rock to “Lift High the Cross” or “Let us Break Bread Together.” Sometimes, if I was feeling really crazy, I’d throw in the Doxology. I know, I’m intense.

My aims were good. I wanted the music of the church to be a part of his earliest memories. And what better way to do it than in those sweet moments just before bedtime?

And then, at around the age of 2, he started to rebel. It was the Christmas season that did us in. One night I sang “Silent Night,” and it was like a lightbulb went off in his little head. “Wait!” his brain seemed to think, “If Mama can sing Christmas songs then there is a world full of possibilities!” And so, we sang about Rudolf, Santa Claus, and all of the Mariah Carey Christmas songbook. For a solid month he asked for “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” every single night. It was relentless. I couldn’t even sneak a “Little Town of Bethlehem” in for good measure.

So then I just gave up the whole religious hymn endeavor and started to sing songs I loved and knew by heart. Mostly showtunes. And then for some reason, I remembered an actual lullaby I learned as a girl, but had not sung for well over a decade.

lullabye

Billy Joel’s “Lullabye” was written for his young daughter Alexa over 20 years ago. Rumor has it he composed the song in response to her asking him, “Where do we go when we die?” I remember hearing it as a kid on his River of Dreams album. It is hauntingly beautiful and Joel’s lyrics are so simple. And strangely enough, I have been singing it to my son, every night, at his request, for months now.

Goodnight my angel, time to close your eyes
And save these questions for another day
I think I know what you’ve been asking me
I think you know what I’ve been trying to say
I promised I would never leave you
And you should always know
Wherever you may go, no matter where you are
I never will be far away

Goodnight my angel, now it’s time to sleep
And still so many things I want to say
Remember all the songs you sang for me
When we went sailing on an Emerald Bay
And like a boat out on the ocean
I’m rocking you to sleep
The water’s dark and deep inside this ancient heart
You’ll always be a part of me

I cannot help but wonder why our son is staying loyal to this particular tune. It is not especially cheerful or funny. And it missed all those religious principles I held so dearly as a new mother. But I think our son loves to hear it, and I love to sing it to him, because it answers so many of the questions a 4 year old has: Will you ever leave me? Does everyone have to die? Do I ask too many questions?

I remember when our son was first born one of our elderly parishioners pondered of my babe in arms, “He is so sweet and little, when will you tell him how hard the world can be?” Honestly, I think he was genuinely asking. This gentleman had served in both WWII and the Korean War. And he felt as though our son should be warned about the harsh landscape that lay ahead. Without knowing what else to say I muttered, “The world will do that for him.”

Growing up is terrifying. Even as a small child, you begin to realize that the world around you is already failing to live up to your expectations. And then you get that first behavior note sent home from school, and you realize that you cannot live up to the world’s expectations either. Everything you thought you understood in those first few years of life is up for grabs. Someone tells you that lizards are not called dinosaurs. You figure out that Easter egg dye is vinegar and not magic. There are unpleasant side effects when you forget to use the potty with some regularity.

And then there’s the heavy stuff. You look up one day and realize that you will not always live with your parents. Which means that you have the daunting charge of also becoming an adult too. And, most startling, at some point it occurs to you that everyone will die someday. As enchanting as a four year old is to watch, it must be bewildering to actually be one.

I think our son loves Billy Joel’s “Lullabye” because it reassures him that those he loves most in the world will always be with him. Like a good father, Joel cannot really make any promises about what that will look like. He only tells his own daughter, in the final stanza, that their profound love for one another will outlive them both:

Goodnight my angel, now it’s time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry, and if you sing this lullabye
Then in your heart, there will always be a part of me