When my oldest daughter was born, I remember the night I sat in the rocker with her, rocking her to sleep, thinking, “I want her to remember I sang to her.” Anybody can sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Jesus Loves Me”, so I wanted something different, something “special” that she would remember as hers. That night, as I rocked, I came up with a simple little lullaby and sang it to her. I sang it over and over and over so that I would remember the words the next day when I rocked her. It wasn’t an award-winning lullaby, it was actually quite simple. But it was special to me. When my second daughter was born, I did the same thing for her—I created a spontaneous lullaby that I’ve sung to her all her life. Today, I played with them. I took them swimming and watched as they splashed around in their awesome new mermaid tails. All day, an overwhelming sense of tenderness has shadowed me. I’ve hummed the two made-up lullabies all day, and I sang them tonight. The small songs have turned my thoughts towards lullabies in general… I started thinking more about what a lullaby is, and what it means. In my mind, a lullaby is a special song designed to bring rest, solace and peace… things which ultimately bring confidence and strength. In my mind, a lullaby is more than just a sleep-time song, it’s a tender melody that whispers “you are precious.” It nourishes our hearts and souls. It’s a hug. Lullabies set apart a piece of time, devote it to tenderness and cuddles, prayers and kisses. Lullabies bring up visions of mothers holding babies, of little children running through wildflowers straight into their mother’s waiting arms, of mothers who are tired finding one more smile for the child who wants to her the page just colored. Perhaps the gifts of lullabies are so pronounced in my life because a lullaby has been the soundtrack to my entire life.
My mother used to anoint the door of my bedroom with oil. She’d pray over it, then come into my room, give me a kiss while she thought I was asleep and pray. At the time, I didn’t understand half of what she said but I felt her warmth. I felt her gather me close to her. She would put her hand gently on my hair, she would kiss my forehead. She would cover me up if the blankets had gone askew. Her nighttime ritual was a lullaby. And just like a song can have meaning, her oil, prayers and nighttime hugs did more than comfort a child–it taught me that she really loved me. It made me believe that, no matter what terrible things might have been happening, I was a priority because she took the time to pray over me and to cuddle me–even when I was asleep and unawares. The realization that I mattered, and that I was a priority, was especially monumental and life-altering for me–it was a lullaby that probably saved my life.
People have called me strong for as long as I can remember. And maybe I am strong. But strength isn’t innate–strength is an acquired characteristic. In order to get it, one must endure trials and war. Strength comes from facing real life nightmares with eyes wide open. There was nothing right with me… I was fat, then I was too skinny. My face had acne. I had braces for what felt like decades. If I was quiet, then I was sulking. If I talked, I was demanding attention. I was either totally ignored or violated. Most of the time, I was a nuisance. To everyone except my sister and Mama. My sister and I have always been friends and have shared a unique bond that was borne from understanding and from sharing the same unstable childhood environment. And we were held together by a mother who constantly sang lullabies. Like a songbird, whenever we were hurt, even if she didn’t know why we hurt, she not only knew it but she knew how to make it better. In her own quiet way, she’d come in and whisper a soft lullaby, the one whose words were only, “You are special, you are beautiful, you are mine”, while she applied a soothing mix of tenderness and wisdom to our wounds, be they from a bully at school or home. When my heart was absolutely broken for the first time, she comforted me. When the bully from school threw a page of my book into the garbage, she spent the night getting excited as she helped me work out the details of the plot. When my teacher hurt my feelings, she was there. When I made a mistake, she reprimanded me, then moved close to my side again. She reminds me of my dreams if I forget them. She knows with one look at my face when I’m in need of a serious break. She is a wonderful listener—-she gets excited when I am excited, she gets mad at the injustice of the world when I am sad. When I started missing my great-grandmother, to whom I was very close before she died, she found me a picture of her. One night, she sang a song that my great-grandmother had loved… “Gathering Flowers” and, years later, when we found the song on iTunes on my birthday, she cried. She helped me with my math. She’s taken the time to read my books, her heart overflows with love for my daughters. Her own dreams, she put on hold so that she could help me and my sister achieve ours. She taught us that money is not the answer to life. God, and family, are. My whole life, she, my sister and I have been the “Three Musketeers,” and we share memories and bonds unlike anyone else’s. For, so far, thirty-one years, her lullaby has been a steady source of stability and comfort for my life. Without the sweet lullaby she’s always sung, I probably would have given up the writing. I would have remained trapped in a war of silence and shame and horrific pain. People praise my strength but, without Mama’s lullaby, a softly spoken but consistent message of love and hope, I wouldn’t have had any way of believing in myself. I wouldn’t have had an example of how to constructively handle extreme pain and opposition.
Mama’s family never supported her. The only person who ever sang a lullaby to my mother was her grandmother. Everyone else criticized, demeaned and otherwise alienated her. Yet, to my sister and I, she was a vision of hope and faith. She prayed all the time. She noticed the small things in life. She wasn’t bitter or resentful. And she never gave up… she never stopped trying to provide my sister and I with all she never had. She never stopped singing the “You are special, you are beautiful, you are mine” lullaby we heard in her words and felt in her actions. As a result, despite all the chaos, physical, mental and sexual pain that cut like a knife in my life, I never doubted that my mother loved me. I believed it because I felt it. You see, the seed won’t grow into a beautiful rose unless it’s given water and sunshine. Without those ingredients, it will remain a plain, ordinary brown seed. Without enough food, the caterpillar can’t change into a butterfly. Without heat, chicks cannot hatch from the egg. In order for anything beautiful to blossom, it must be cared for and loved. There are many, many blonde haired, blue-eyed, precious little girls who are trapped in a bedroom tonight without a mama to come and kiss them while they sleep. There are many, many blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girls who will have their innocence shattered tonight without a mama to hug them in the morning. There are many, many beautiful children who will get up tomorrow and go to school, then come home with nothing to eat and also no one to talk to. My mama always kissed me at night. She always hugged me in the morning. Even when there wasn’t much to eat, she would talk to me. And she always told me I was beautiful, even when I wasn’t. Maybe I have blossomed by now into a strong tree. Maybe the rose has sprouted, and will bloom. But only because it was cared for. Only because it was sang to. Only because it was taught to believe in itself even if no one else did.
I write a good amount about the stark and degrading pain I felt growing up. I write about it for a number of reasons… one, I was taught to believe that God is good and that He can take something horrible and transform it into something good but that, in order for Him to do it, I have to do my part… in order for someone to feel understood, in order for someone to take comfort from knowing she’s not alone…. survivors have to speak out. I also write about it because, frankly, I’ve got work to do… I’m not one hundred percent healed. I still have nightmares. I still have intimacy issues (still trying to find the courage…). Writing helps me process and resolve those fears. Three… it was my life and Mama taught me that all life is valuable and worthwhile. I’m trying to believe that that applies to me as well. So, I write about the pain. But there was much more to my childhood than that. Mama sang songs with us all the time. We quoted movie lines all the time (“Get off my BENCH!”, “Daddy! It’s time!”). We camped out for Fan Fair. We made up games for the car rides. We played cards. Mostly, we learned to believe in each other, in the power of affection and in a wonderful God that holds our hands and never leaves our side. Whatever good there is in me came because I had a mama who loved me, and who loves me still. A kite cannot sail without wind. A bird cannot fly without wings. Mama’s the one who has the real strength, she’s the one who stands in the shadows, overwhelmed by pride when I do well and ready to catch me when I stumble. She’s the wind beneath my wings that sends me high. I have no idea who I would be without her influence, without her prayer and without her hugs. I have no idea to whom I would have talked, or to what lengths I might have gone to feel loved, without her. Her lullaby comforts me even today.
Children provide light to the world but good parents, loving parents, provide the match. I am filled awe as I think about all the amazing challenges Mama handled alone, and how well she did it. I am humbled by all she sacrificed for my benefit. Mostly, though, I’m deeply moved and touched and grateful that my life has a sweet and soft lullaby of hope and love by which I continually gain confidence and comfort. As I sing the lullabies I created for my daughters tonight, my thoughts are with Mama as I revel in the glow of all I’ve gained from Mama’s sweet lullaby.