I have a time machine. It has but one setting, one destination. But how many do you really need?
Moonfilled forest clearing
Night as day is lit
Sleep, my Monkey dearest,
Sleep, as I once did
Well, I guess I lie—If I try, I can get it to go all the way to nine years ago, to when Monkey was a baby. Her name, it fit right into the song, the same number of syllables as the one that's there in the original. The names even end the same way. (Also? It's better in the original Old Country, this song of a teenage girl going off on a big adventure, sung to her favorite doll—I had to change a few things in translation to keep the rhyme and meter.)
I sang that song to her too many times to remember. The melody is slow and sort of trance-inducing, which is handy if you are singing it over and over and over again to a baby up with the pain of teeth trying to come in or even one up because she'd really like you to take her to your bed, while you don't sleep well that way and so you'd much rather she slept in her own. Point is? Bazillion times.
Press your tiny nose
Into pillow's fold
Stars and toys above us
Quietly look on
I didn't do every little thing I should've done in the short hours after A was born. Mostly, I didn't take enough pictures. But also, I didn't touch his face the way I touched Monkey's, running my finger in a circle. I didn't think to do that. As I didn't think to do a thousand other things, I am sure. Once in a while I think of another one of these, a thing I could've done and didn't, and then I am sad and wistful.
But I did sing the song. Holding him in my arms, his tiny head on my chest, I sang the song. Putting his name in where Monkey's usually went meant needing to move words around to make it work. And I did. I also hit the high note in the middle of the second couplet. How I did that then is somewhat beyond me now-- I am not that great a singer, and I've only sang this song-- slow but very challenging-- that well a handful of times before or since.
Maple's branches whisper
As they move and kiss
Daybreak's coming swiftly
What might it bring with?
The Cub's name requires a yet different manipulation of the lyrics, one that accommodates the differences in stress syllables between his name and A's. I've now sang the song the Cub's way about another bazillion times. And nearly every time, especially if I am, as one often finds oneself when a lullaby is on order, singing it in a darkened room, nearly every time I can feel that time machine rev up before the first three bars are out. Something pulls me in the way such pulling might be depicted in a sci-fi vehicle of some kind, with stretching and pulling of things that by laws of the physical world should tolerate neither, something-- time?, grief? love?--rushes through my ears, and then I am there. Or, rather, in two places at once.
I am back in that room, the only place I've ever physically held my second child, back among the sadness and the love. There are times when it helps to be there, to know just how real my son was. To remember with the clarity of seeing the tiny details of his appearance that are not in any sense pretty, but are in every sense real, and in that way profoundly poignant. There are other times when things feel more in balance in my post-world, and I don't need the reminders. Those times feel different, though still in a way where I am glad for the connection.
How much of me is taking the time machine trip also varies. There are times when I pretty much snap back to my living son's bedroom suddenly as I become aware of my voice finishing the last line of the song. And there are times when I am fully both places throughout. The funny thing, though? I've sang the song outloud with A's name in it exactly once. I've sung it with the Cub's, as I believe I've mentioned, about bazillion times. And yet, it's A's line that springs readily to mind as I make my way through the first couplet, and I have to remind myself of how to switch the words for the Cub.
I knew, when I started to sing to A in that room that I was, essentially, making a decision to have this song be the song that I sing to all my children, those I've already birthed and any that may yet come. I didn't forsee then that in making that decision I was building myself a time machine. But you know what? I am glad to have it. And these days I even miss it-- the Cub is growing, his bedtime routine is changing and he's up less in the middle of the night, and all of this means that I sing the lullaby less. Who knows, one of these days I might just end up singing in a shower.
Candle's burning low
Soon it will be gone
Sleep, my heart and soul,
Sleep, as I have done.
Do you have a time machine? If you do, is it something you treasure, something you wish you could trash, or a little of both? If you don't, do you wish you had one or are you glad for the distance?