Friday, February 20, 2009


Singing has become critical to keeping our household on track.

I don't sing well, and until I got pregnant I no longer even sang very often, since my Paris commute by public transportation doesn't lend itself to belting out Sarah McLachlan tunes like I used to while zipping down the Mass Pike every morning. But as my belly grew so did my desire to expose le Petit to music early, even if it was just to my poor shower renditions of "You Are My Sunshine."

(Lest I be accused of neglecting the serious side of le Petit's musical education, we did play Bach's Brandenburg Concertos through headphones I held against my abdomen when I was six or seven months pregnant, but I gave it up when I realized I had no way of knowing if the sound volume was adjusted correctly. Maybe it was turned up too high and that's why he's so, err, expressive? Although if a harpsichord accompanied his tantrums you'd never hear it over the chorus.)

Now I sing morning, noon, and night, and on unfortunate occasions, in the very small hours. I sing "Rubber Ducky" at bath time and "The Wheels on the Bus" on our way home from the park. I sing "Oats, Peas, Beans" at dinner, a homage to frozen peas, le Petit's new favorite food. I sing "Little Bunny Foo Foo"--complete with hand gestures--when I need to encourage patience in line at the grocery store. I sing "Louie Louie" loudly and poorly (is there any other way to sing it?) to startle le Petit into accepting a diaper change and to annoy my husband at the same time. Two birds, one stone! And, of course, I often run through every lullaby I think of at bedtime.

Meanwhile, my repertoire of French children's songs has been growing. My husband has in turn been learning American songs, but he's more into improvisation than mastering the original lyrics. For example, his version of "Little Bunny Foo Foo" goes something like this:

"Little Bunny Foo Foo was hopping through the forest, scooping up the little mice and bumping them on the head. Bumping them on the head! Down came the good fairy and said, [doing his best impression of a New York taxi driver] 'Hey. Hey! Foo foo! I don't wanna see you do this to the little mice! I like the little mice, they are my friends."

And so on, in the very French accent I fell in love with 'the's that come out more like 'zhe's. Le Petit seems to prefer it to my more traditional version.

Le Petit is starting to learn a few songs of his own. "Ah! Les crocos," a French song about an epic battle between the crocodiles and the elephants, is his favorite. The tune is approximate and there are only two intelligible words, but it is a start. He also happily chimes in with "eee-eye-ohh" when he hears "Old MacDonald" and "Ding, ding, dong!" when he hears "Frère Jacques."

His grandparents sent him the gorgeous Glorious American Songbook for Christmas. He loves to flip through the pages and point out the songs he wants me to sing (half of which I don't know, I'm ashamed to admit. "Happy Days Are Here Again," anyone?) It feels like I'm brainwashing him with patriotic propaganda when I sing (at his request, I assure you) "My Country 'Tis of Thee" for the umpteenth time, but my heart melts when he sways back and forth to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or declares "Doodah!" when we land on the page with "Camptown Races."

Our latest discovery, courtesy of his French grandparents, is a selection of French children's songs on the web. Le Petit loves the computer now, and although we severely restrict the time he spends in front of it, our Sony Vaio notebook has been rechristened "Croco."


Isabelle said...

I love American kids' songs!
Like I told you, I still have Barney's voice in my head singing all the great tunes! (I don't know whether it's a good thing or a bad thing though).

Now your parents need to send you the cd that goes with the song book that they sent Le Petit (if it does exist...)

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Alas, the American songbook doesn't have a CD that goes with it, but my dad and stepmom did send us a CD of American children's songs that has good, if basic, versions of the songs I remember from when I was a kid. Le Petit loves it.

We just got a new four-CD album of French comptines at the FNAC. I like it because it is more professional than most and easy on adult ears (my husband claims it sounds like some of the Québécois folk groups he used to listen to). With 150 songs, it is not only easy for me to learn the ones I don't know yet but (I'm hoping) hard for me to get sick of the ones I do.

Sylvia said...

I really should get you a tape of French folk songs, including kids' songs, that my friend Colette produced for her French students. It comes with a booklet with all the words. But do you even have a tape player any more?

Sylvia said...

Or I can sing to him! I love to sing! I can sing with you and he can listen in stereo! My mother sang both American and French songs to me as a child and that experience remains a dear memory.

caramama said...

Isn't it amazing how much we sing now that we have kids? And my little girls now sings all. day. long.

You'd be very proud of her. She sings Frère Jacques with pretty good pronunciation. She even prefers it in French than the American version of Are You Sleeping!