In my first post, I explained that one of the events in my life which cemented my atheism was the birth of my first child. Shortly after her birth, I sat in the glider with her and realized I was going to have to become very mindful about traditions in our family. When I was growing up, so many of the traditions were bound to church and religion; they were “ready-made”. As an atheist, I didn’t have “ready-made” and the full weight of that didn’t rest on me until that night, my baby snuggled against me as she fed.
One of our nightly traditions growing up was the recitation of our prayers just before bed time, including “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”. As a child, that prayer always bothered me. I would pester my mom to explain why she wanted me to “pray the Lord my soul to keep” as though I were going to die each night. Frankly, it freaked me out. So, as I sat in the glider thinking about new traditions and thinking about what I wanted my children to value in life, an idea came to me: we’re going to have to sing. And not just about anything, mind you, we’re going to have to sing about love and thanks and people who are important in our lives.
Now, I’m musically inclined, but I’m no song writer. I spent the better part of two weeks trying on different ideas and lyrics, but nothing seemed to fit. Then I decided the only thing to do was to take a tune I knew she loved (cue “Hush Little Baby”) and create new lyrics to fit the tune. After a couple of nights, I had what would come to be known as “The People Song” pretty much hashed out. So I began to sing to her, every night:
Let’s think of all the people we love (insert 2-3 names) in (insert place) [repeat until entire family is included]
Now that we’ve thought of the people we love/It’s time for us to go to sleep/As we sleep this night we know/The people we love, they love us so.
Until my second child was born, my oldest heard this song every night just before she went to sleep. She quickly learned to hum the tune. I also discovered that any tears from a bump or fall were generally quieted by me merely humming a few bars. This tradition–it’s powerful stuff!
Once my youngest was born, the grandparents or daddy started to do bedtime with my oldest because, inevitably, my youngest would want to breast feed right at my oldest’s bed time. My husband, being less musically inclined than I was, couldn’t remember all the words, much less get the pitch within range; my oldest, who knew the tune but couldn’t keep the lyrics straight, wasn’t much help. So “The People Song” fell by the wayside. Until last night.
Last night was the third night we’ve had a new bedtime routine because our children are now sharing a room at night. (And I am very thankful this means that I get to be more a fixture in both their bedtimes now!) My oldest was reading her books when my youngest finished up her feeding and I started to rock her and sing. Of course, “The People Song” was the last song I sang before I put her in her crib. I was two stanzas in when my oldest came over and climbed up in my lap and sang/hummed the rest of the song with me, her arm draped gently across her sister’s shoulders. After the song was done, we rocked that way for a while longer, and my oldest looked up at me and said, “I like ‘The People Song’ mommy. I love my little sister. I love you mommy”.
That moment reaffirmed for me that the traditions I created would be a very important part of her life—so I must be mindful, I must choose well.