44. Things I Can Remember: The Lyrics

“Can you sing tonight?”

This request stuns me silent. It is an hour past bedtime. The bath and books are done and we’re actually in bed, which is no small feat at the end of a day involving a swimming pool, a river kayak, and a playground. He’s wiggly. He’s stalling.

What stuns me more than his request is the realization that I don’t remember which lullabies used to accompany us during this sweet, sleepy time. Half a year has passed at least. Maybe more? A parent once wrote that none of us knows when it’s the last time we read Goodnight Moon out loud, or the last time we give our kiddo a piggyback. Only later, when weeks have passed or maybe months, do we realize we’re characters in a whole new chapter. The one before is over and we failed to catch the moment the page turned.

For Bug and me, singing slipped away as silent as seasons. December 2013 is the most recent reference to bedtime songs here on SmirkPretty. Those nights of music are now impossibly long ago. He’s already tall enough to fill the bed.

Tonight, though, he cuddles up against me.

“Baby Beluga?” I ask.

He scrunches up his nose and shakes his head. “Anything besides that one.”

I stroke his damp hair. “You know what’s weird? I don’t remember any of the other songs we used to sing at bedtime. Do you?”

He thinks for a minute. “Oh yeah! ‘The Cat Came Back.’ And also ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain.'”

Yes. Our trio of lullabies comes riding the current and spills over me. The same three songs, every night for what seemed like forever but turned out to be just a blink.

So I begin.

Old Mr. Johnson had troubles of his own,
he had a yellow cat that wouldn’t leave his home.

My lips shape the words, my throat the melody. It comes from somewhere other than conscious memory, rising from down in that pocket of the brain where the old rituals live. The lyrics are stored deep in there alongside maps of my childhood neighborhood and the uncanny ability, even after neglecting to touch a piano for decades, to play Chopsticks flawlessly on the first go.

I understand now that this moment could be the first in a reawakening of bedtime music, or might be the farewell tour. The only certainty is that it’s here now.

They thought he was a goner
but the cat came back,
he just couldn’t stay away.

Bug’s head settles on my shoulder and I sing each line, full and slow. My voice wraps itself around my boy. He falls into its waiting arms and lets it carry him to sleep.

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6 thoughts on “44. Things I Can Remember: The Lyrics”

  1. Oh so bittersweet and beautiful. I look at my son growing and ache with pride but also because I miss those already-forgotten rituals. You capture this so beautifully.

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