The Lullaby as a family heirloom

I’m talking about your every day, run of the mill, possibly out of tune (but it doesn’t matter) lullabies. They don’t have to be anything fancy, and they may be the same songs that many other families sang and cherished as their own. But there is something very meaningful and sentimental about these songs. I love the way a lullaby can be passed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom. 

I have very strong memories and a subconscious emotional reaction to the lullaby my mom sang me when I was a baby/young child, and I sing the same lullaby to my own baby now at every nap time and every bedtime. 

My dad sang to me too, but he sang a lot of different songs, and he played his guitar for me, and he played relaxing CDs for me. I have emotional reactions to some of the songs he used to sing as well, but they were something different than The Lullaby that my mom used. From a psychological perspective, a Lullaby is used (intentionally or unintentionally) to condition a sleep response. It is used repeatedly at sleep times to cue that it’s time to sleep, and eventually hearing that particular lullaby will make the child feel sleepy. I have to think that such a deeply conditioned song would stick around in one’s memory and continue to evoke an emotional response later in life. Interestingly, it may also trigger a sleep response in me – I yawn my way through it when I sing to my baby the lullaby my mom sang to me as a baby. 

Avery now reacts instantly to our lullaby. She relaxes, closes her eyes, and her arms stop flailing as she rests her hand on me while she nurses to sleep. 

In case anyone’s wondering, my family heirloom lullaby is All The Pretty Horses. Side note: old lullabies like that tend to have subtly disturbing lyrics. A quick Wikipedia search of this lullaby suggests that the song was originally sung by Africans slaves who couldn’t care for their babies because they had to care for their masters, and some versions make reference to buzzards pecking out their eyes. We don’t sing that verse…. 

What lullaby has a special place in your memory? Do you have a family heirloom lullaby? 

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