Once upon a time, there was a new dad. He was as mentally prepared as he could be going into fatherhood, but there were certain things that they neglect to tell you in the parenting brochure. One of those things came to light for him on night one.
My daughter was barely the size of a shoebox on that first night at home. In the midst of slumber, time stands still. Despite the major life changing event that had just occurred, my dreams whisked me away to a land where none of that was happening. I can’t remember what I was dreaming, but it wasn’t anything close to what happened when I was suddenly jolted awake.
My eyes opened to the sound of an infant crying and, before I had even managed to fully separate my top and bottom eyelids, a tiny little girl placed into my hands by my then-wife. I looked down at the loaf of human in my palms and saw my daughter’s almond eyes peering back at me. She was adorable.
And loud. So very loud.
I didn’t know what to do. How does one stop a baby from crying? Before I knew it, it was all up to me, standing there holding this newborn out like an open Bible. I went through the mental rolodex of crying treatments. Diaper change? Bottle? New toy? What the hell did this kid want?
Then a voice inside me said, “Sing, monkey. Sing the tears away.”
The problem? I couldn’t think of any kid songs. None. Between the half-sleeping nature of my brain, the shrieking person dominating the room, and the unexpected nature of it all, I couldn’t conjure up one single baby song. So, I just started singing whatever came to mind.
Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to yoooou…
She settled down a bit and watched me as I rocked her in my arms. It was working. I was doing it. When that song came to an end, I sang The Star-Spangled Banner. Then I sang the Mr. Belvedere theme. I was all over the place, but it all worked. She was falling asleep and I, the resourceful dad, had made it happen. Streaks on the China never mattered before, indeed.
That’s when I realized that you could literally sing babies anything. It all works. Sing Dr. Dre. Sing Nirvana. Sing the Kars For Kids jingle. Babies don’t care. They just like to hear your voice. It wasn’t about the songs. It was about the singer.
Knowledge like this made bedtime much more palatable as my kids grew. Both children listened to songs and stories before sleeping each night and, as I quickly learned, it had little do with the content of the tale. It was all about my delivery.
The yarns I spun for my little ones were loaded with my own sound effects and insane voices. These kid books, many with basic and boring prose, weren’t exactly fun for the whole family. They follow the same pattern in many cases and reading them aloud to your little ones can feel tedious at times.
Throw in a loud and somewhat inappropriate vocal play and the whole game changes. Soon, our bedtime tales centered around daddy’s characters and not the morals buried in the ready-to-read text.
My most animated offering may have been Pinkalicious, where I assigned all the characters increasingly bizarre voices. My personal favorite was when the main character kept asking for cupcakes. Her exasperated father told her, “You have had enough.”
When I read it, though, he didn’t simply say it. He bellowed it. I patterned it after the demonic dad in infamous 1987 b-horror film The Gate. With a deep breath, I shouted.
My daughter loved it and, as we read it more and more, she would brace herselves for the crazy dad moment. I assigned a strange high-pitched wail to her little brother Peter and the Doctor who prescribed her green things to counteract her pink dessert addiction had a garbled German accent that you could barely understand. It made my daughter laugh like crazy every time. Me too.
For a non-verbal child like my son, you’d think that story time would be a complete waste. After all, his receptive language was constantly evolving, with many of the words and concepts resting outside his realm of understanding. It would have been understandable if I, as a parent, just skipped it.
But I didn’t.
Instead, Lucas’s bedtime stories captivated his attention through my sing-songy delivery. His rhyming books were told in a lyrical way that helped him follow along. Because of that, he knew when to turn the pages and looked to me for the parts that included tickles. To this day, we still read Moo, Dog, and Cat by Matthew Van Fleet. They’re among his favorite books. He responds to them immediately
If a story had wind, I’d blow on his neck with a whistle. If something jumped out, I would tickle his belly. If one of the characters fell asleep, I would nod off and start to snore until he tapped me to wake up. It was all perfect. He became so accustomed to the way I told them that, even today, I can recite him Frog and Friends from memory and he listens as if there was a book in front of us.
The reason these things aren’t mentioned in the parenting brochure is because there is no parenting brochure. We have no set list of rules to follow or ways to bond with our children. Parenting is truly about making things your own and figuring out how to make your child love the time you spend together. The only rule for times like this is to make them fun – for both you and for your children. That’s what I have always tried to do and we truly love every minute of it.
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