Friday, August 15, 2014

Baby Mine

Did you ever watch Dumbo? You know, the Disney movie with the baby elephant that has ears so big they can lift him off the ground? I haven't seen it in probably thirty years, but like many of those Disney early-childhood separation-anxiety pictures--Bambi, The Fox and the Hound, effing The Journey of Natty Gann--it made its impression.  I remember there's a scene in it where Dumbo and his mother are forced apart, and it's heartrending. 

What I remember most about the movie, though, is the first verse of the lullaby that Dumbo's mother sings to him. The lullaby's called "Baby Mine." It goes like this:

Baby mine, don't you cry,
Baby mine, close your eyes.
Put your head close to my heart, 
never to part,
baby of mine. 

The song has another verse, maybe two even, and a bridge, but I don't know them. I guess my mom only knew the first verse, because she lulled me with it over and over again, till one summer morning when I was five and asked her what "never to part" meant. She explained to me that it meant Dumbo's mother and Dumbo would live together forever. "Like me and you, right?" I asked. Then my mother explained that no, she and I would not always live together, that one day I would live apart from her. The words "never to part," didn't actually apply to us, not in the most literal sense. She said that mothers and their children eventually separated, and that was the normal order of things.

I didn't take this very well. I was five, I was a pretty nervous kid with big feelings I didn't really know how to deal with, and my mother was the central figure in my life, the source of love and security and sustenance. The idea that I would one day part from her, that she wouldn't be a forever presence in my life, melted me into a big teary mess. That day I took the bus with my big sister to the Honolulu Academy of Art, where we took summer classes, and all day long I walked foggily through the beautiful building, with its cool echoing courtyards and quiet lilyponds, singing the song under my breath. Every time I got to the "never to part" line, I choked and teared up. I kept repeating it because I was waiting for the sadness to heal, and I kept finding it hadn't.

When I was nineteen and still-nervous and my mother passed away, I wondered whether my five-year-old self had had some sort of premonition about such a premature, permanent parting. For years I avoided the song--and it's a beautiful song, lots of people have covered it; Alison Krauss does this particularly lovely cover--the way your tongue carefully avoids a sore tooth. Every time I heard it I felt wounded and scared, like the song itself might take someone away from me. 

Then I had my own beautiful baby, who needed, who still needs, to be rocked and sung to sleep. Of course I thought of the song my mother sang to me, but some weird superstitious feeling--what if singing it means I'll die and leave him motherless when he's only a teenager, too?--made me choose every other song I could think of first. But the Alison Krauss cover kept playing on our Pandora, and I kept thinking--the song is beautiful, and he'll never meet my mom, his grandmother, and oh they would have loved each other. Maybe this is one little way for him to know her. And so I started singing it to him, here and there. Every time, a little tremor of trepidation, but I don't want to be someone who confuses her wounds for her reasons.

The other day Kamal pointed to the dining table, cluttered with a variety of grown-up paperwork and baby toys, and demanded: "This."

"What do you want, honey? There's lots of stuff on that table."

"This!" he insisted.

"Can you tell me what you want? Do you want this car? Do you want your ball? Do you want to draw?"

"No! This!" He made his concentrating face, and finally produced, "Meedeek!"

That's his word for "music." On the table was his little four-key plastic piano.  I gave it to him and he started banging away, his little face alight. 

"See!" he ordered, pointing at me. That's his word for "sing"; he likes being the accompanist. 

"Ok," I agreed. Some day, I fantasize, we'll be like the Partridge Family, never mind that Adam would probably rather endure a piranha attack than sing in public. For now Kamal and I are a two-person, highly experimental-sounding band.

I started singing a song he usually likes, but he lifted his hands off the keys and shook his head fiercely. "No. No dis sah."

"Not that song? Okay. How about this one? The water is wide, I cannot cross o'er..."

"NO! No Water Wi'."

"Okay. Do you want the Itsy-Bitsy Spider?"

"No! No Fider. No." 

"Okay, kiddo, you tell me, then. What song do you want to sing with me?"

And I listened to the request fall, pure as rain, from his rosebud mouth, from his perfect heart: "Baby Mine."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The line

Maybe she'll let me if I wear this.
Poor Kamal. While Mama will let him jump on the bed, she draws the line at jumping on the bed with the express intention of falling down and bumping his head, per the monkeys in one of his favorite songs. He is tearfully protesting this obstruction of justice, while I rethink all the lyrics to every song ever.