My son has had the same bedtime ritual for years, though we do vary it up a bit from time to time. He gets one story, one (or two, if we have time) songs, and then prayers, from whomever is doing the bedtime (anywhere from 1 to 4 people, depending on the night and the circumstances).
Tonight, the hub was asleep in the chair (he works nights), my mom was at a conference, and the sub was at an event, so it was just me and the kiddo. We did his math homework and watched Doctor Who (The Name of the Doctor, if anyone is interested in which episode for some reason). He was really tired at the end of Doctor Who, and I asked him if he wanted me to do a full bedtime even though he was drifting off next to me on the bed, and he said yes. He fell asleep before stories were even finished, but in some ways, that’s what made the rest of the bedtime so beautiful and wonderful that I wanted to share it with all of you.
Our story tonight happened to be one from my childhood, one of my absolute favorites that my Dad used to read to me. Fiddler, in the Land of Barely There, by Stephen Cosgrove. As I can’t find an online reading of it, I will post a few pictures, and I encourage any parents to check out this series, because they are so beautifully written and illustrated.
By the end of the story, the Kiddo was curled up against me, fast asleep. It’s been my own principle, since we started bedtime routine years ago, that I finish, doing songs and prayers, even if he is asleep, because I believe that on some level he can still hear me. So I put on “our” song, the lullaby that I sing to him most frequently and that is, to me, my song for him above all others. I’m blessed with a musical background (specializing in vocal music), so I sing to him with the songs, instead of just playing them.
Peter Hollens cover of Lullaby by Billy Joel
After that, I did prayers. I found myself able to pray more freely and profoundly than usual, knowing that I didn’t have to worry about wording something in a way that would confuse him, and I enjoyed just pouring my heart out to God over him, as he slept, praying for him, praying for strength to be a better mom, praying for mercy from my illness and strength through whatever suffering I have to endure.
Despite this normally being the end of bedtime, he was asleep already, and the hub was so cute asleep in the chair, that I didn’t want to disturb either. So I decided to sing more songs to him as he slept, songs that for one reason or another mean a lot to me. (And yes, there are quite a few covers. I obsess over vocal quality, so that leads to a lot of cover songs).
Glee Cover of Smile, by Charlie Chaplin
This song has always lifted my spirits and given me courage. I think deep down I knew what songs I was going to work towards, and sung it for him both for him and to brace myself for what was to come. Charlie Chaplin is amazing, and I love the harmonies.
God Only Knows by The Beach Boys
I was raised on the Beach Boys. My Dad wanted to be one (had he been a few years older and living in a different state, I think he would have clawed his way into the band by force if necessary), and I grew up knowing not just their hits, but many of their more obscure works as well. This song has always summed up well how I feel about my kiddo, and it also was how I felt when I lost my Dad.
Somewhere Near Japan by the Beach Boys
One of their lesser known songs, but one with very powerful meaning for me. My Dad had been into the Beach Boys since long before I was born. I got my ear for harmonies from him. Because he had been into them for years, and despite getting excited about harmonies even after the 40th listen, I wished I could have been there to see him hear one of them for the first time. We got a cassette tape of a Beach Boys album at a garage sale when I was about 10, and when we listened to it, we discovered a song that had not been on his previous copies of the album. Watching him listen to this song for the first time, the way the melody pulled at him, the discordant notes bating his breath, the resolution bringing with it a sigh of relief. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
When my Dad passed, 4 years ago, I got his phone. I opened his internet browser, and he had one tab open. The lyrics and chords for this song. In many ways I think of it as his note to me. “The spinning stopped and the world stood still/I broke her fall and I always will” will never stop echoing in my heart.
Gregorian cover of Sweet Child of Mine, by Guns and Roses
I had heard the original of this many times, but was never fully struck by the beauty of the lyrics till I heard the Gregorian version. And it fits how I feel about my kiddo very well.
Surfer Girl by The Beach Boys
Where to even begin with this song? I can’t believe I was able to hold it together enough to even consider singing it. Surfer Girl was my first lullaby, that my Dad started singing to my Mom’s stomach when she was pregnant with me. It was also the first song I sang along to, albeit wordlessly, at 10 months old. It was me and my Dad’s song more than any other, and I will never forget calling him on the phone when Levi was about 2 and sang it along with me for the first time, and the shared joy we had, over a generationally shared experience, will always live in me.
And the last one.
Meant For You by Brian Wilson
This song may sound a rather morbid choice when I explain it, but I figure if you’ve stuck with me this far, you can make it through this. My Dad passed away in an ambulance, so while he wasn’t alone, none of his loved ones were there. The first year or two after he died I spent a lot of time thinking about that, wondering what he would have said, had he had the chance for last words. That led to wondering about his last thoughts… what does someone think of when they know it is the end, what do they spend those last precious thoughts on?
Because of the dysfunctional relationship between me and my Dad, I have been afraid ever since the day he passed that it wouldn’t have been me. So many of his actions and choices in life pointed to me not being his highest priority. And yet I remember my Mom once telling me, when my Dad was in a deeply depressed state and I was worried that he might be suicidal, that she knew that above all else, the only thing that would make him actually go through with actively committing suicide would be if he lost me.
That is the only thing that would do it to me. The loss of the kiddo. And I know that someday, when I have a few precious thoughts left to think, whether it’s tomorrow or in 100 years, the Kiddo will be the last thought I have. He’ll be what I choose to spend those last precious thoughts on. And because of that, I know that in spite of all our problems, I was the last thing my Dad thought of. And Brian Wilson’s 51 seconds of brilliant composition in Meant For You, is about how I believe it would feel, both for my Dad and someday, for me.
Saying Goodbye at the end of life is not so different from saying Goodnight. Not when you know how precious life is and how fast it goes.
As I sit and close my eyes, there’s peace in my mind, and I’m hoping that you’ll find it too. And these feelings in my heart, I know, are meant for you.