LIFE BY LOUIS: Where did lullabies disappear to?

Monday June 10 2019

Nowadays all I hear parents murmur to sleepless babies is a meaningless mhhhs, oooohs, aaahs which does not conform to any known musical standards. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH


I raised my siblings. There’s no other way to put it and I really had no choice in the matter.

When I see them commenting with ‘Nktest’ and ‘Lolest’ on my Facebook wall, I’m tempted to remind them that I changed their nappies and bathed them.

A lot has changed in the art and science of taking care of babies. Now that I have babies of my own, I feel so inadequate and I need to read the manual afresh if any exists.

One of the major changes I have witnessed is the diminishing fontanelle. This is the soft opening in the skull at the top of a baby's head. In my days of taking care of my siblings, the fontanelle used to be a full acre of soft and pulsating marshland. If you brought your tiny hand anywhere near the baby's head, Wa Hellen would plot for your murder.


Nowadays, babies are born with skulls that can head a soccer ball into the goalpost and score a hat trick.


Babies are also being born with their eyes wide open, and you would be tempted to give them a newspaper to peruse through as you follow up on the lengthy discharge process from the maternity wing. I believe my siblings were born blind and they only started seeing things when they started walking, or how else would you explain their incessant crying even after you had gathered all kinds of toys around them and still they could not keep their small mouths shut?

The other good thing is that babies now sleep without starting a third world war.

In our days I would be left alone with the baby at 8am because our mothers had other things to do like going to look for school fees and locating the veterinary officer so that he could come and treat the cows.

Come 12pm and the baby has not slept. By that time, you would be dangerously cranky because you also wanted to go out and play and baby would not be in the mood to make that happen for you.


So you would apply an extinct method called communal sleeping. This involved taking the baby to bed and sleeping beside them as you soothed them to sleep. If there were other children in the household, they either joined you in sleep or they were chased away from the vicinity until the baby was sound asleep.

This had the effect of keeping the baby warm and making them feel like they were not alone. They could not sleep if they suspected that they were missing out on anything that the rest of you were doing out there. It was also meant to minimise the noise in the surroundings.

The baby would sleep alright after two hours of the communal sleeping.

The downside was when you were convinced that the baby was now sound asleep and you try to withdrawal and leave the baby to sleep alone. You had to disengage with the precision of a neurosurgeon without causing any disturbance.

Just as you are remaining with one final move to complete the exit, you accidentally bang a door and the baby wakes up howling like a small pig. You are left with no choice but to start the two-hour long ritual afresh. 

This would sometimes go on until mid-afternoon with the baby still wide awake and very agitated because of lack of sleep. You on the other hand would be holding onto your last straps of sanity because you haven't stepped outside to play and know what mischief the other boys in the neighbourhood are up to.

By the time you were relieved of the responsibility and you had given out the handover notes, the day would be completely ruined.

Just out of curiosity, what happened to lullabies? You could not be trusted with a baby if you did not have a full album of lullabies in your head. The song’s lyrics were supposed to be flattering and soothing. The first few stanzas would be dedicated to praising the baby and reminding them that they are beautiful. You would remind them that mama loves them and she has gone to the market, and she will bring them sweet potatoes and ripe bananas. The last stanzas were to beseech the baby to sleep because babies that sleep will see heaven with their own tiny eyes.

Nowadays all I hear parents murmur to sleepless babies is a meaningless mhhhs, oooohs, aaahs which does not conform to any known musical standards.