My younger daughter turns three tomorrow, and we've spent the weekend celebrating with extended family: a trip to the circus yesterday, brunch and a slightly damp walkaround at 19th century "living museum" Old Sturbridge Village today. It's been exhausting, to be honest -- putting the girls in their spring dresses, driving back and forth the length of Massachusetts, and advocating for the kids sanity among the best intentions of so many family members is a lot of work.
But I'm grateful for the distraction. Because if I had a chance to really sit and think about how big my little girl is getting, I'd probably just end up crying.
I remember, from her older sister: three is the turning point, where a child begins to turn from a state of constant parental need to wanting space and freedom, a room of her own. Sure enough, when we asked the wee one what she wanted for her birthday, she asked for a bunk bed -- which was, for her older sister, the moment we could no longer lie in bed together, late at night in the darkness, and do what daddies and their children do: share stories, snuggle close, and, finally, listen for those sweet deep sighs, the ones that mean sleep has finally come to take my child from me one more time.
The elderchild read her first book all the way through this week -- just us and Sam I Am on the couch past her bedtime, struggling with would nots and could nots until the triumphant end. I was proud, and it seemed right. But my mind and heart play tricks. While milestones seem perfectly natural for the older child, and always have, there's a part of my heart that rails against change when it comes to her younger sister. I want so much for her to be little forever, it hurts like hell.
She's getting big without me, more than her big sister did. We get so little time, just her and me, and she is still adjusting to Mama as a working girl -- she clings to Mama when she comes home, and will not talk to me for the rest of the evening. This tiny towhead who once insisted on her Daddy, and only her Daddy, in the middle of the crying night is losing her lisp, and gaining her independence, and fighting to hold on to her Mama, and all I can do is watch the clock, and ache to hold her in my arms while they are still strong enough to carry her.
So it's been a poignant time for me, there on the couch with the elderchild while the wee one snuggles in with her Mama. I've always felt like I give the second child short shrift; it seems like we had so much more time, so much more focus when there was only one. Now so much more of our life together is spent in threes, trying to manage the play between them. Now here I am, running out of time.
I'm proud of them, and I feel good about the time we spend together, on the whole. But my little girls are growing up, and though there's nothing I can do about it except take the moments as they come, and fight for every one I can, I miss their smaller selves. And my heart breaks when I think how precious, how rare, the moments are about to become.
There are several popular folksongs about fathers and sons which have been covered within the genre -- stellar versions of Cat Stevens' Father and Son and Paul Simon's St. Judy's Comet jump to mind, though Ben Folds' Still Fighting It remains so definitive it is practically uncoverable. But with the exception of a few sappy countrypop tunes, there aren't so many songs written from fathers to daughters out there.
One reason the crossgender parent-to-child song may be so rare is that it provides a weaker outlet for the narrator to project their own sense of childhood into the child. Which is to say: The narrative trick which turns a song about fathers into a song about fatherhood, which makes mincemeat of my heart in songs like Harry Chapin's Cat in the Cradle and Mike Rutherford's Living Years, is unavailable to us. No matter how much I love my children, I can never claim to know what it is to be a little girl with a Daddy.
But though like the moments I have with my own little girls, songs which speak directly and explicitly to our lot as parents with daughters are precious and few, what songs there are tug powerfully at the heartstrings. So today, a short set of songs which speak to my own complicated feelings for my own little girls. I've deliberately left out songs which name sons or mothers, though I've allowed myself a couple of songs which are open enough to come from any parent to any child. But this set of songs is intended first and foremost for daddies to give to their daughters. As such, it runs from sugar and spice, through everything nice. Because whether you listen as a child or as a parent, that's what memories are made of.
Unlike our previous kidsong posts here on Cover Lay Down, a vast majority of the songs included herein were not originally intended for children. Instead, most teeter on an open line, innocent enough to apply to either a lover or a child, unspecific enough to allow a good interpreter to choose, if they wish. To me, the delivery and intention of the performances below resolves the lyrical vagueness in a way that makes them perfect for sharing between parent and child. But many work well as more general songs of love and affection. You're welcome, as always, to make them your own in any way you need them to. That's the heart of folk, right there.
- Livingston Taylor, Isn't She Lovely (orig. Stevie Wonder)
- Lucy Kaplansky, Goodnight My Angel (orig. Billy Joel)
- Eliza Gilkyson, Child Of Mine (orig. Carole King)
- Shawn Colvin, Say A Little Prayer (orig. Greg Brown)
- John Haitt and Loudon Wainwright III, My Girl (orig. Smokey Robinson)
- Ani DiFranco w/ Jackie Chan, Unforgettable (orig. Nat King Cole)
- Ben Lee, In My Life (orig. The Beatles)
- Chantal Kreviazuk, In My Life (ibid.)
- Billy Bragg w/ Cara Tivey, She's Leaving Home (orig. The Beatles)
- Sheryl Crow, You Can Close Your Eyes (orig. James Taylor)
- Gray Sky Girls, You Are My Sunshine (orig. Jimmie Davis)
Like brother James, Livingston Taylor specializes in sweet songs delivered in a crisp, light crooning tenor over bright acoustic stringwork. This cover of Stevie Wonder's tribute to female innocence comes from kidlabel Music for Little People, off out-of-print collection That's What Little Girls Are Made Of.
A pair from the incredible kidfolk compilation Down at the Sea Hotel: Cover Lay Down fave Lucy Kaplansky with a gorgeous tune originally penned by Billy Joel for his own daughter, and Eliza Gilkyson with a breathy, slow country blues take on a Goffin/King classic which suggests misty-eyed regret even as the lyrics celebrate a child's independance.
So many female coverversions of songs written by fathers for their daughters. This one, which treats the late-night illness of a child with a stoicism and a lightness masking the secret fear all parents have for their sick children, is more poignant than many, more mystical than most. Shawn Colvin is but one of many strong folkwomen on the highly recommended all-female Greg Brown tribute Going Driftless.
Languid and dreamy, floated over a majestic piano and guitarstrum, the beauty of this version lies in the distance between Wainwright's melodic voice and Hiatt's rasp. Listen for the high harmony; it's chilling. Originally a B-side, subsequently off out-of-print Demon Records compilation album From Hell to Obscurity.
Originally a song with unspecified female subject, this song was transformed when Natalie Cole chose to re-record it with the ghost of her father. Though the end result was a song more from daughter to father than the other way around, I think the sentiment holds, even in Ani DiFranco and Jackie Chan's unusual take. From When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You'd Hear.
This song may not have been intended to speak to the way all other loves pale in comparison to the sudden, deep love we feel for our chidren, almost from the moment they are born. But it says it, all the same. Many good versions to choose from here; in the interest of diversity, here's Aussie Ben Lee's tentative, nasal tenor and slow wash of sound off of recent indie tribute album This Bird Has Flown, in sharp contrast with Canadian Chantal Kreviazuk's bright soprano, layered over production suprisingly similar to the original, from the Providence soundtrack.
All my fears in one song: the parents who never truly understood their child, even as she leaves them behind without a goodbye. Another repost, and more Beatles, gorgeously performed by Billy Bragg; so tender and wistful, it's just right for the occasion.
One of my very favorite songs to sing to children: a stunningly simple lullaby of eternal parent/child tomorrows from James Taylor, covered in folkpop well enough for a Grammy nomination for Sheryl Crow in the Best Pop Female Vocalist category.
I sing this song to my children, as my parents sung this song to me. Though the Elizabeth Mitchell version I posted in our very first Covered in Kidfolk post sounds more like my parents, the simple, sweet plaintive harmony from local "organic country slowgrass" folkies Gray Sky Girls best parallels that which I hear in my head and heart.
As always, artist and album links above go to online sources for purchasing genuine plastic circles which offer the best chance of profit for musicians, and the least amount of corporate middleman skim-off. Teach your children well: support the artists you listen to.