“Lean on me, Little Scrunchy Face/I’m your mommy, I’ll wipe your drooly face…”
Like how I rhymed “Face” with “face”? It’s a gift, I know.
That little lyrical gem is one of many in my repertoire of made-up baby songs that poor, four-month-old Scrunchy Face has to listen to each day. That’s because more than a year after first writing of my pathetic ignorance of children’s music, I have yet to master the genre.
It’s not that I haven’t made an effort. When Scrunchy Face’s older brother brought home a packet of song lyrics from his preschool, I dutifully read each one…and then promptly forgot them all. This despite the fact that the songs are actually designed to be easy to understand and memorize. Case in point: “Where Is Thumbkin?” OK, the Thumbkin verse I can remember, and same goes for the verse afterward — “Where is Pointer, blah blah blah” — but then what? Is there a cutesy name for the middle finger that I’m supposed to sing about to my child? Somehow “Where is birdy?” just doesn’t seem appropriate unless I’m getting cut off in traffic.
(Yes, I know, a Google search will tell you that “Tall Man” is the phrase I’m looking for, but try Googling on your iPhone when both hands are busy changing a baby boy’s diaper. Show me a mom who manages to accomplish that, and I’ll show you a pee-stained iPhone.)
So instead I find myself improvising my own lyrics to the tune of random grown-up ditties — everything from upbeat disco (“Shake Your Groove Thing” becomes “Shake Your Rattle”) to prom-worthy ballads like “Lady in Red.” Witness:
Baby in bed…just spit up on me,
Mouth to cheek.
Why’d I put you here?
You ruined my sheets.
Happily, Scrunchy Face seems to smile no matter what bizarre pop song parody I warble at him. And, though he may not understand it yet, he has good reason to grin: Dr. Alan Kazdin — the Yale Parenting Center director who politely suggested to me a while ago that “Baby Got Back” might not be the best musical choice for my children — tells me that my made-up songs can, in fact, be good for the baby.
For one thing, exposing him to music in the first place “has beneficial effects all over the brain that are not fully grasped.” Among the benefits we do have a grasp on: listening to music teaches babies about rhythm and also soothes them. (The soothing effect of my screechy soprano is questionable, but I take the fact that Scrunchy Face isn’t bleeding from the ears yet to be a good sign.)
More specifically, the stories I end up telling him through my songs — for instance, mommy’s adventures in doing the laundry — can also prove valuable.
“Content familiarity and repetition — these things are just good for the brain,” said Kazdin, whose book, “The Everyday Parenting Toolkit,” comes out this June. “When everything is said and done, a parent sitting down and interacting with a child is really the best you can do.”
In sum: So while I thought I was slacking off in the parenting department, it turns out I’ve been feeding my baby’s brain all along…now if you’ll excuse me, I have a groovy rattle to shake.