Lullabies: becoming forgotten treasure?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 10, 2019

Mary Anna Harbeck and grandson Christopher share a heart-bonding lullaby moment. Photo by Warren Harbeck

Soothing baby-cradling lullabies span across time and cultures. How about a treasured piece of classical music? Give a listen to Brahms’ Lullaby. Want to put those little bundles of yours back to sleep at 3:00 a.m.? Sing them a comforting lullaby while enjoying the bonding.

Such bonding was exactly what my wife Mary Anna enjoyed just last month with our new grandson, Christopher, then only six weeks old. Indeed, his mother, Reg’s wife Kristen, regularly draws on her Vietnamese heritage while cuddling and cradling him to her own ancestral melodies.

But is that melodic heart-to-heart-bonding tradition being threatened by smartphones and other digital devices these days? (Google under the search string images smartphones infants to see what I’m getting at.)

This was the topic of a conversation I had at Cochrane Coffee Traders last week with my German language and culture mentor, Health Care Aide Marlis McDouall. Marlis is deeply concerned over our apparent willingness to hand over such an important part of our lives “to technology which simply cannot compete with the human touch.”

Indeed, she is so passionate about this that she put her concerns into an email for me to share with you. Here are Marlis’s thoughts on what she fears might become a forgotten treasure:

DISCUSSING MUSIC in general and the positive effect it can have on our mood and wellbeing, Warren and I unexpectedly stumbled onto the subject of lullabies. Do contemporary parents still rely on the soothing melodies of a lullaby to calm the little persons in their lives? Singing, or even just humming, a lullaby inevitably leads to gentle rocking motions, and combined they can work miracles by calming an inconsolable baby. In the wee hours of the night that is an invaluable skill.

When my three children were young they listened to me sing all the lullabies I knew, the very same ones my mother sang to me and her mother to her. They are part of our heritage, maybe a soon forgotten heritage.

When we sing to our children we are fully there, we make eye contact and interact with them in a multitude of ways. Although in recent years it has become quite acceptable to employ TV, iPad or smartphone to entertain the little ones, it cannot possibly replace that parent/child bonding experience that comes from singing to them with our own voice while holding them close to our heart. Indeed, close to our heart, in the very literal sense.

We do live in a world of hi-tech inventions and it seems possible that a simple activity like singing a bedtime song to our children has fallen victim to screen time. In the future this may prove a far bigger loss than we can foresee today. Already we had to invent the expression “quality time” for time spent with another person by being fully present, giving them our full attention.

Humans are not born with smartphones in their hands but I do believe we are born with the seeds of music in our brain. They need nurturing a little in the beginning to make them grow but the investment of time pays rich dividends. Music has the power to provide light in the dark seasons of our lives, heal our spirit and transform our perspective. It is powerful medicine we should treat with reverence. Music boosts happiness and invites us to dance. – and lullabies are an especially touching heart-to-heart way to step onto the dance floor of life.

—Marlis McDouall, Cochrane

© 2019 Warren Harbeck

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