Happy song gave my son the blues

A few weeks ago, something happened in my sons' bedroom that freaked me out.

While I was putting my younger son Lucien, who is four years old, to bed, I decided to make up a lullaby for him.

As we lay side by side in the dark, I started singing about clouds coming to find my precious boy, to wrap him up in sweet dreams and be his friends. It was quite a cute and happy song, I thought.

It seemed to be going down well, too. I could make out the faint shape of my son in the gloom, shaking with giggles. Or so I thought.

Suddenly, a muffled sob escaped.

I stopped singing.

"Are you laughing or crying?" I asked Lucien.

"Crying," he replied, before bawling in earnest.

Appalled with myself for making him weep with my singing, I fled the room. I felt so terrible about causing him pain, when all I wanted was to soothe him. I didn't know what else to do but to remove my offending self and yell for the Supportive Spouse to come help comfort the poor child.

Instead of singing away the monsters, Singing Mummy had become the monster.

I was reminded of this episode recently by a video of a baby being reportedly "moved to tears" by her mother's warbling.

The YouTube video, titled "Emotional baby! Too cute!", showed a 10-month-old child tearing up at her mother's rendition of Rod Stewart's My Heart Can't Tell You No. Uploaded on Oct 18 by a user named Alain Leroux, who some news sources have identified as the baby's father, the clip has gone viral and garnered more than 18 million hits.

Slate.com news magazine even called in experts to analyse the video who said that the baby was "responding to the sorrow in her mother's voice and presentation", and that evidence suggests that babies "take on the emotions of those around them, imitating facial expressions literally from birth".

This squares with my observations about Lucien. From the time he turned a year old, he has been prone to weeping when he hears songs in a minor key - which sound sad, as opposed to those in the "happy" major key. Stirring string music on television shows also have a similar effect on him.

Once, while watching a scene in a cartoon, about a robot ninja having his memory wiped by his old and ailing inventor, Lucien started crying inexplicably. "Switch it off," he begged, lacking the vocabulary to explain his distress.

At the time, I thought it was because the boy, at two years of age, understood that the creator-father was doing so because he did not want the android to miss him - an innate empathy for our complex human emotions and motivations. Now, I think that it was more the melancholic flute music accompanying the scene that set him off.

My cloud lullaby, while not in a minor key, had been sung in my lower register (I was feeling too tired to falsetto) and had a very sedate tempo. With hindsight, I realise it must have sounded rather dirge-like. But, in my defence, I was trying to make him fall asleep, so an exciting upbeat song was hardly going to do the trick.

Still, what terrified me, I admit, was the idea that, somehow, some fundamental sadness in my being was coming through subconsciously from my singing.

Am I so unhappy deep down inside that my innocent child has picked up on it, and is weeping for me? I still can't answer that question.

These days, however, Lucien seems to have developed an immunity to my "sad" singing. As he grows up, I think, he has learnt to better differentiate between the conventions of music and genuine emotion. When I start singing, he sometimes states flatly: "That's not a nice song."

I stop immediately. And that's that.


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