Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child

This is a guest post by Suburban Dad.

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay

Oh, how we just want them to sleep! Parents will go to extraordinary lengths to calm a baby; some drive around the block until they are almost asleep at the wheel, others think a particular song has that magic calming effect (perhaps Sir Mixalot, for those of you who remember Friends). But the oldest soothing method of all is the gentle, repetitive rolling of the tongue and lips.  Lulla lulla lulla lulla by by by by by. Lullaby.

In the West we assume technology can solve all problems, including crying infants. We strap our children  into rocking machines, or play them special relaxation CDs that mysteriously cost twice the price of a normal one. But most of the women in the world do not have these plastic tools. They have arms, mouths and tongues. They lullaby. And when they are happy they trill their tongues in joy – alleluiaalleluialleluia. And when they are mourning they trill their tongues in grief – allaallaallaalla. This is called ululation, and it wells up from the same human emotional spring as lullabies.

And it is the same emotional spring. We pray that our babies will fall asleep, but, oh God, we pray more that they will wake again. What mother has not lain awake at night, rigid with fear, listening out for their baby’s breathing? And what parent does not wake in a cold sweat the first time their child sleeps through the night, convinced something terrible has happened?
For a small number of parents, something terrible has happened in the night. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome sounds scientific, but it is a temporary name, a placeholder while medical research uncovers the cause of babies dying in the night. Technology will not invent a perfect machine that gets kids to drift off, but there is a much better chance of technology, twinned with  medical research, solving the mystery of why some children never wake up.
The lines quoted above are from the Coventry Carol, which comes from a mediaeval Christmas play. The carol accompanies the act where the women of Bethlehem desperately try to get their children to shut up and sleep,  attempting to hide them from Herod’s soldiers carrying out their murderous orders. Our children are not, thank God, under that sort of threat, but every family has a slim chance of being affected by SIDS.
The charity that raises money to find a cause and a cure for SIDS has changed its name today – to the Lullaby Trust. If you support them you will be working towards a world where more mothers trill their tongues in joy instead of grief, and where women lullaby their babies to sleep without the fear that they might not wake up.

If you would like to find out more about The Lullaby Trust, please visit their website.

This post is for Jennie and in memory of Matilda Mae.  You can read Jennie’s lullaby post here, and also many more that have linked up to support the Lullaby Trust.

9 thoughts on “Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child

  1. Françoise

    I love the way you share your thoughts with us. You are showing common sense. You are reminding us of the importance and meaning of a simple lullaby. Thank you.

  2. crowtherclan

    Wow. Extremely poignant and so well explained. Thank you for writing this, I enjoyed reading it and it has made me think very differently about trying to get my Children to go to sleep.


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