Summertime Confusion

How many of you know the beautiful song, Summertime, from the Gershwin opera Porgy & Bess? If your answer is yes, good on you. If no, then you can be in the company of my dear AdoringHusband who had never heard the song, nor had he heard of the opera before I clued him in. (I’m convinced that this is one of those pieces of black trivia you must learn to earn your black card.)

Yet I’ve loved the beautiful lullaby/spiritual from the first time I heard it. Here’s one of my favorite versions, sung by Ella Fitzgerald herself:

Lovely, wasn’t it? Now back to today’s little tale…

I’ve sung that song to the kidlet since she was a wee microperson. We’d sit rocking in her glider, while I attempted to do the song justice. Though I wasn’t Ella or Billie, she seemed to like my rendition, falling asleep snugly in my arms. And later as she became verbal, she’d say, “Sing Summatime,” before snuggling into my lap with Rae Rae for “rocky” before she went to sleep.

At some point AdoringHusband also heard me sing Summertime. I’m sure that it had to have been at the kidlet’s urging, since I never sing acapella in front of any live, conscious adult. Never ever! But for my kid, I’ll move mountains, or in this case, counter my painful fear of being laughed at for my singing voice. And I sang for her in front of him.

When I finished, his eyes were glistening. “That was just beautiful,” was all he said. I waited for the punchline, but none ever came.

Zara, then, in her toddler wisdom, decreed that Summertime was Mommy’s song and Hush Little Baby was Daddy’s song. That was just fine with me, since I could never come up with the rhymes necessary for Hush Little Baby with sufficient quickness. I’d end up singing something like:

If that diamond ring don’t shine, Momma’s gonna get you a porcupine
If that porcupine is too darn sticky, Momma’s gonna say you’re much too picky

So sticking to Summertime was just fine and dandy with me.

Now there are two verses in the song that go as follows:

One of these mornings
You’re going to rise up singing
Then you’ll spread your wings
And you’ll take to the sky

But until that morning
There’s a’nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by

When Zara reached her “why” stage about 6-9 months ago, she began asking me, “Why I will spread my wings, Mommy?” as I reached that part of the song. I thought for a second about offering some misdirection, but decided that my plan to always be honest with my kid (as age appropriately as possible) wouldn’t tolerate anything but the truth.

“Well, Jubby,” I began, “the song is talking about what some believe happens after we die. We spread wings and fly up to heaven to see God.”

“Where Grandma Ericka is?” she asked.

I didn’t want to get into the whole my-mother-may-have-been-too-evil-to-get-into-heaven thing with her, so I simply answered, “Yes. But that’s not going to happen to you for a long, long time.” (I did feel OK giving this piece of unverifiable reassurance  since discussions of death are a bit heavy for a 2 1/2 year old to grasp without being a little scared.)

“OK, cool!” she answered, smiling. Well played, I thought.

The issue didn’t come up again until about a month ago. She’d ask me to sing Summertime but then when I’d get to the “spread your wings” part, she started to say, a little fearfully, “I don’t want to spread my wings! I don’t want to leave Mommy & Daddy!” And I’m all like, WTH?

“Honey, remember I told you, it’ll be a long, long time before you spread your wings. You’ll be older than Mommy and Daddy. Even older than Grandpa Jogi! You’re not going anywhere,” I’d reassure her emphatically.

“Mommy and Daddy will stand by me and protect me?”

“Absolutely! Nothing can harm you,” I said, continuing the song lyrics, “and now I give you the added protection of Mommy’s kisses!” She’d dissolve into giggles, the worries put aside in our kissing and ticklefest. But I still was like, what the heck is bringing this up for her?

This week I found out. I was, as they say, gobsmacked with the revelation.

I sat in our bedroom, dressing, listening to AdoringHusband and the kidlet talking in her room.

“Sing Summertime, Daddy,” she urged. After initially protesting that this was Mommy’s song, he obliged. When he reached the “spread your wings” verse, she again interrupted the song with “I don’t want to spread my wings, Daddy!”

To my surprise and horror, AdoringHusband replied, “Of course you do, honey. You want to spread your wings and go off on your own to live your life.”

“Will you come with me, Daddy?” she asked plaintively.

“No, honey! You wouldn’t want me to come with you. You will want to go by yourself like a grown up lady.”

“But I don’t want to!” she said, protesting further.

I saw where this was headed. Oh good lord!

“AdoringHusband,” I called. “Can we talk for a minute?”

He arrived back in the bedroom a minute later with a look that said this better be good. Oh it was.

“Hon, you do realize that the ‘spread your wings’ part of the song refers to death, right? It’s something I’ve explained to her before. So why are you freaking her out by telling her that she wants to spread her wings?”

Man, if I could have frozen time and run downstairs a la Hiro in Heroes and grabbed my camera to capture the look that came over his face, it would have been something for you to see. There was a split second movement through astonishment, guilt, horror, disbelief, then horror again.

“Death?!” he sputtered when he finally had regained the ability to speak. “That part is about death?!”

“Well yeah. ‘Rise up singing, spread wings, take to the sky’ All religious images of soul departing the body and flying to heaven.”

“I thought it was about spreading her wings and going off on her own!” he said in a pained voice.

“Then why would she rise up singing one day, for goodness sake?”

“I don’t know. She was happy to be leaving?”

“Oh heaven help us! No wonder she was so freaked out. I’m telling her that she won’t have to spread her wings for a long, long time and you’re telling her that she should want to spread her wings and leave us. AdoringHusband!!”

“Death?” he mutters, “now I’m depressed.”

I think we’ve managed to clear things up with the kidlet (as best as we could), but this is a clear illustration of why Daddy should only sing Daddy’s song and Mommy will happily only sing Summertime.

Published by: teendoc on May 14th, 2010 | Filed under family, funny stuff, music, parenting, what the hell?

14 Responses to “Summertime Confusion”

  1. Halei Says:

    Where can I sign up to earn my black card?

  2. teendoc Says:

    You have to learn the secret handshake, first!

  3. Tweets that mention Summertime Confusion | Welcome To The Dollhouse -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liana Clark. Liana Clark said: New blog post: Summertime Confusion #music #parenting […]

  4. Kellie Says:

    POor Kidlet! No wonder she was terrified. Hope it’s better now that AH has it straight. I am with you that it’s about death.
    .-= Kellie´s last blog ..Life in General is Good =-.

  5. Mikhail Lyubansky Says:

    Ok, I have to admit I’ve never heard this song before, though I did hear of the opera. I guess that means no black card for me 🙁 Oh, and Ella…she can sing a little!

  6. Julie Says:

    Kudos to you for being honest. We are at the why stage but it’s different – he’s just mimicking a word vs. wanting to know why.
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..4 Years ago =-.

  7. sqpeggy Says:

    First of all- beautiful choice for a lullaby, by the way, just beautiful.

    Now, I usually think you’re right about most things, but I’m going to have to go with AH on this one. I LOVE the music from Porgy and Bess but have never actually had a chance to see it performed. Looking at the synopsis of the opera and when the song is sung, it seems the song is actually sung as a lullaby and not a funeral piece of some sort. I like the more positive interpretation of it. I really do. I think it’s fine to see it that way and it makes the lullaby even more precious to think of it as a message of love and shelter until she flies off on her own.

    Feel free to change your mind and agree with me 🙂

  8. Emma Says:

    My mother sang me that song as a baby. I am with your husband. I have always understood that as growing up and leaving the nest. You rise up singing because you find your voice, and you become the mommy singing instead of the baby being sung to. I don’t like thinking about it your way. Too macabre.

  9. teendoc Says:

    Hey Emma,

    I do get your point (and hubby’s point) but when I think negro spiritual, few of those are happy songs about growing up and leaving the nest. So that’s why I was always so sure about the meaning. Yet now with no way to prove the actual meaning, I’m left scratching my head.

  10. mindthing Says:

    This is one of the two lullabies I’ve sung to my children since birth (the other is What a Wonderful World). While I agree that strictly speaking the second verse may be about death, I focus on the growing up and leaving the nest interpretation both in my thoughts and in my explanations. I suppose I should check in my my husband to see what he’s been telling them!

  11. teendoc Says:

    LOL!! At least make sure that the two of you are on the same page!

  12. maria Says:

    I used to perform this song-and always felt said part was referring to leaving the comfort and protection of home.(Shrugs )

  13. teendoc Says:

    Hi Maria,

    Thanks for visiting. I wish I could find some documentation of what was meant by the words, because I’ve always known that as a negro spiritual clone, it had to mean death. Now it seems half the people think death and the other half leaving the nest. I don’t know a way to settle this.

  14. maria Says:

    Oh-and I’m black 🙂

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