Folsom Prison Blues and Other Lullabies

Erin and her daughter

I am fairly certain that every child-care book on every bookshelf in America says that singing to your baby is an excellent thing to do. I submit that the authors of these books have never heard me sing. Nor would they want to. However, one day I decided to take their advice and broke out an a cappella version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for my baby daughter, Devi. It was horrible. I am positive that my voice sounds like a squirrel trying to impersonate Minnie Mouse and the whole exercise made me entirely self-conscious and uncomfortable. Not at all the warm, fuzzy musical experience that I was hoping to offer to my daughter.

I went back to the books and was reassured to read that babies don’t particularly care if their parent’s singing voice is displeasing. In fact, it can still be comforting because it is a voice they are familiar with. This was excellent news, as it meant that my rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle” hadn’t irreparably damaged my new relationship with my daughter. But this didn’t help me get past the fact that I felt completely weird singing in a silent house to an infant. Since I was pretty sure that singing to my baby was an obligatory part of being a mom, I had to figure out a way around the weirdness.

Maybe if I had music to sing with I would feel less self-conscious about singing aloud to someone. After all, I always had music on in the house and I had turned it off to try to sing these lullabies in the first place. I looked through my music collection and, not surprisingly, found that the closest thing I had to baby music or nursery rhymes was the Charlie Brown Christmas CD. Breaking out the Christmas music would only make me feel weirder.  So I chose something that would be easy for a baby to listen to, that I knew all the words to and that I could sing along to. I chose Johnny Cash.

I am aware that songs about prisons, cocaine and shooting a woman named Delia might not be everyone’s first pick when choosing music for an infant, but I needed music that I was comfortable with. Besides, Devi was too young to understand words yet and it couldn’t possibly be any worse than singing her a song about falling down out of a tree in her cradle.

I sang. And she listened. I didn’t feel self-conscious anymore. I didn’t care how bad I sounded. I felt relaxed and she seemed to enjoy the singing. Folsom Prison Blues. Ring of Fire. Sunday Morning Coming Down. I was on a roll. I was enjoying myself and I felt like I was really bonding with my child. I started to introduce a half-hour of singing and dancing into our everyday routine. I would put on Johnny Cash or the Smiths or the Cure or any other depressing songs I happened to know by heart and I would sing to her as I danced her around the kitchen. Smiling. Laughing. Singing.

It turns out those books are right. Singing to my baby was an excellent thing to do.

Devi is 8 now. Sometimes she will ask to listen to Johnny Cash in the car and she will smile and say, “You used to sing this to me when I was a little baby.” Ten years from now, when she can understand the lyrics it will sound more like, “You used to sing THIS for me when I was a little baby?” But maybe someday, if she has kids, she will find herself walking around the house with an infant, singing Folsom Prison Blues and will say “Your grandmother used to sing this to me when I was a little baby.” The words in the song won’t matter. The fact that I cared enough to sing to her will.


Erin is the nefarious Queen of the Martinez Clan in Boston, Massachusetts. She regularly tortures her subjects by forcing them to memorize sight words, digest green, leafy vegetables, and clean under their fingernails. When not attending to her queenly duties, she can likely be found reading Poe, watching horror movies, or fortifying her Queendom for the impending zombie apocalypse.

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1 Comment

  1. Great post! Not only do I also sing Cash to my baby boy, but I have very fond memories of my mom (and her, honestly, terrible voice) singing me depressing 1960s car-crash-death songs.

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