I Re-Wrote the Disturbing Lullaby Lyrics So You Don't Have To

lullaby bucket
Lullaby bucket
I think it’s a rite of passage we all go through: You have your baby, you cradle him or her in your arms and sing a well-loved lullaby from your own childhood, and you suddenly find yourself listening to the words -- really listening to them, at least the ones that you can remember -- and feeling downright disturbed.

Of course, if you’re me, you also sing your own favorite songs from high school to your kids, and bump up against lines like “their logic ties you up and rapes you” (a song from The Police), and then you just think, good grief, why doesn’t CPS come take them away from me already?

But years of improv training have come into play as I rock my kids to sleep. I keep rewriting their sleepytime songs and making up new versions that suit my sensibilities better.


For instance, “rock-a-bye-baby” ends with a child plummeting to earth from the top of a tree, “cradle and all.” It was my stepson Eli who rewrote that one, to say “... and down will come baby, into my arms!” If you want to absolutely melt, just listen to a 2-year-old singing that to a newborn. Puddle.

The wheels on the bus kind of bugged us, too. Why was the baby going waah-waah-waah, and why was the mom shushing her? On our bus, the baby goes, “Hah-hah-hah,” and the mommy said, “I love you.” Of course, then, the old lady on the bus goes, “Where’s her hat?” and the old man says, “What was that?” and then a dinosaur gets on the bus and goes, “RAARRR!” so you might want to steer clear of our bus.

One of my daughter Penny’s favorite songs to sing is “You Are My Sunshine,” but my gosh, when you get past the first stanza, that song is really stalky and weird. “But if you leave me and love another, you’ll regret it all the same,” the Appalachian hayseed murmurs from behind his banjo. No thanks; we stick to the intro verse, and then (Penny’s innovation) sing it again, only this time it’s “You are my ice cream, my only ice cream.” And so on for all the other things you might love as much as sunshine. “You are my SpongeBob sandals, my only SpongeBob sandals ...”

This can go too far, of course. I am part of a group of moms who get together to play music for and with their kids (a kind of DIY Music Together kinda thing), and as you can imagine, they can be pretty crunchy. The last time we got together, one mom was mega-excited to hand out lyric sheets for a new version of “Hush Little Baby” that was less “materialistic” -- rather than saying “Momma’s gonna buy you” various things, we were directed to sing that we were going to “show you” a list of other nice things. Which was perfectly lovely, but also a bit over-the-top to me.

Then again, I sing my kids a Tom Waits lullaby that makes my husband clap his hands over his ears and flee from the room, so what do I know?

Do you change the words to your kids’ songs? 

Image via Charlotte Morrall//Flickr

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