There’s the old adage, “Write what you know.” Many writers over time (Including Twain and Hemingway) have given this advice. This tale can be titled Sing What You Know and/or Put On Music That Calms You Down When Calming Your Baby Down.
My wife and I have one son who is age three right now. When he was a newborn, he did the usual things a baby would do in its first year. He woke up at night many times, pooped six times a day, required burping after bottles and wanted to be held the majority of the time. We both worked during this period of his life so trying to get enough sleep was becoming more difficult.
I have a brother who is eight years younger that me, so I remember observing what my mother and father would do to calm my little brother down when he was crying. Some would obviously work (Giving him a bottle because he was hungry) and some would not (Taking off/adding clothes when he just wanted held). Over time my parents learned his cues and my brother didn’t cry as much as he got closer to his first birthday.
During those early desperate nights when it seemed we could not get enough sleep before going into work for a full day, we tried to understand our son’s needs in an attempt to get him back to sleep. When it came time for me to take my turn in the waking up rotation, I wanted to sing my son back to sleep but I didn’t know any of the traditional lullabies people would sing to babies. I wanted my wife to stay asleep, but I didn’t want our son to keep crying for thirty minutes. I needed something to hum or sing that was repetitive, and there was only one type of music that came to mind in my state of sleep-deprived delirium:
Video game music from my old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
The first night I tried using NES music, I slowed down the background music used in the above-ground levels of 1986’s The Legend of Zelda. It worked! My wife would get so pissed that I could sing him back to sleep with the silliest method that would never be found in parenting advice books and blogs. When our son didn’t want to hear the Zelda music, I slowed down the following music from other games (I challenge others to try this method to see if it works on other babies):
The podium win AND the “kick the can” music from Excitebike, above-ground music from Super Mario Bros., the game introduction/general background music from Bases Loaded and the count out/winner music from Mike Tyson’s Punchout. I added a few from other platforms, including the original “hammer” music from Donkey Kong.
As my son got older and started going to day care, I had a problem keeping him happy in his car seat on the way home. I always had CD’s of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen in the car, so I would pop one in to see if the mellow folk music of Drake or Cohen would calm him down. I could tell he was listening to the different instruments and the words being sung in the songs. It was a sound completely different from what he heard in his early life. After a few tracks, he would go to sleep. If I knew he didn’t sleep well during the day, I would keep the music on and drive around for an hour to let him rest.
Even at three, my son remembers some of those drives home and knows their music well. He has his own special names for each of his favorite tracks and when I pick him up from day care, we usually have Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left on when we drive home. Instead of tossing a child’s DVD in the car and my son blankly staring at a small TV screen while we drive home, my son and I sing “Time Has Told Me”, we listen for the strings to kick in on “River Man”, all while looking out the car windows, seeing the birds fly, viewing the turkeys pecking at last year’s corn crop remnants and marveling at the big construction trucks when encountering road work being done.
I loved my old NES and when I have time again, I know I will eventually purchase the recently released Nintendo NES Classic Edition. I love the music of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen because their poetic songs bring calm to my worrisome existence. The games and songs that have soothed my soul over the years have provided my son with the same feelings of comfort and familiarity in a unique form.