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A French lullaby « Aux marches du palais »

Earlier in the summer, when my daughter was here with her baby and when we would go on car rides together, the three of us, we noticed a peculiar habit of our little darling. Once in a while, when the baby would start crying, and by the way, my grand-child is the most gracious and lovely little baby in the world, she smiles easily, she is curious and attentive, she is easily contented, but it is true that once in while she would cry in the car. We would try the usual stuff: giving her a bottle or a toy or pointing at things outside the window but when we could not stop her, it would easily become a screaming and bawling event BUT and here is the peculiar thing, as soon as her mother and myself would start singing French lullabies, she would stop crying and listen. She would tilt her little head toward us and pay attention for as long as we would be singing unless she fell asleep first. So, of course, we resorted to this every time.

We had quite a mini repertoire of French songs but the very favorite one, for all of us, was the lullaby “Aux marches du palais…” On the steps of the palace, which is an old comptine for children. When I said we would “sing” it together, her mother and myself, I am being generous because there were occasions, depending on traffic or the weather or our energy, where we might have yelled a little bit. Plus although my daughter went through her own Zaz period (1), she really has an average voice. And as far as I am concerned, I have on some occasions thought of myself as Nina Simone (2) but the truth is I am not… But singing this specific song to our darling little baby would ALWAYS please her.

Last night, I had my own petit drama here in the chalet. It was one of those nights when my mother is agitated and cannot go to sleep. Between 7:30 pm and 10:30 pm, she would get up, come in my room and say “I can’t sleep!” and then go back to bed, wait 2 or 3 minutes, then get up again and do the very same thing, again and again. First I was sitting at my computer and I would tell her calmly to go back to bed, that sleep will come soon enough. But I find those endless repeats to be jarring. I tried every thing I could think about, I use the rational approach (“How can you sleep if you keep getting up?”) and the funny angle (“But you were asleep, I heard you snore!”) and even the stern daughter voice (“Go back to bed RIGHT NOW!”).

It is all basically the same to her, she is still restless and I’m getting weary.

I went to bed myself and she kept doing it. She would come to my room, opened the door and tried to turn on the light. But that did not work because I taped the switch a long time ago! It would freak me out when she would come in at 3 am and turned on the light and say: “I can’t sleep !”. Or even a worse one “Where is Papa?”… My father has been dead for a year and a half but she can’t seem to remember it. So the main light switch got taped.

Last night, by 10:30 pm, I was feeling a certain fatigue myself and I even said a prayer to the Holy Spirit: “It’s the synapses in her brain! She’s got that one thought stuck in her mind and it goes round and round like a hamster in its cage. Could you PLEASE send a soothing and calming breeze to her poor mind?” (Praying is not unusual to me, it’s definitively a great source of support to me). I heard her coming to my room once again and I could see her silhouette against the light in the hallway. I could not think of anything else to tell her (and she will stand there until I say something) but then I thought of the French lullaby and I told her “I’m going to sing a lullaby for you” and started “Au Marches du palais” (3)… She laughed and went back to bed and 5 minutes went by. I was holding my breath ! She got up again and came to my door and I only had to sing “Aux marches du…” and she turned around and 10 minutes went by. Then I knew we had reached a respite plateau!

By that time it was getting close to 11 pm and I felt a wave of gratitude come over me. Any parent who has taken care of their sick child, any care giver who has stood vigil by a patient will know what I mean. In the midst of suffering, there are moments of rest and when we hit them, we recognize them instantly and we appreciate them. I am well aware of the turmoil of the world, I know that parts of the Middle East are constantly fighting, killing their own children with the help of the West - and the East. I know that parts of Asia and Africa can’t seem to feed their own children. One part of Japan has been pouring tons of radioactive water in the Pacific Ocean DAILY! I am aware of all this and I greatly care but in the middle of my own domestic crisis last night, I could only think of sleep for my mother - and for myself . So when she finally staid in her bed, I knew peace had come to our house, at least for a while.

And I fell asleep myself thinking “Thank God for lullabies!” And isn’t it something that this specific one seems to work well for one baby and for her great grand-ma...

Michele Szekely @2013

(1) Zaz is a young French singer with a great voice and two wonderful musicians; listen to “Les Passants” here
(2) Nina Simone has done a moving interpretation of a famous love song: “Ne me quitte pas… see link: here
(3) Here is the French lullaby, la comptine en question: “Aux marches du palais….” here

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