Music is a parent’s cure-all. I play music or sing or hum to entertain (him), engage (him), distract or sedate (us both).

I cannot sing well so mostly I sing-talk. Lilting, running commentary like:

This is a sock

And this is a sock

Two socks, on your feet they go

Not for long though, right, Noah,

you’re going to pull them off again

aren’t you, you little dumpling*

Doesn’t matter on they go

Sock sock sock,

Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em

I guess

That noise is horrible, isn’t it.

A leaf blower. Useless things.

We’re in the kitchen now

Why? Who knows, who knows

The leaf blower blows

The wind blows back

Ridiculous, ridiculous**

* I’ll admit that on my less stoic days, I’ve let slip ‘bastard’.

**Parental advisory label. These songs don’t have ends but limits—if I sing like this for too long, reality smudges, my senses get kooky, I feel mind and body untether. I cut the lyric dead, intuiting the safe distance from madness as clearly as I would intuit the safe distance from a cliff.

When we’re in a rare mood, music is music, not a tool. He is relaxed but alert, not wanting of anything. I’m absent enough of my own worries and at ease with chaos, letting go the urge to at last clean, pack, email, wash. One tragic but necessary tendency of parenting is to Get Stuff Done in each scarce moment when your baby doesn’t demand attention. It’s hard work to just be while your child is just being.

But here we are, in a rare mood, just being. I play music and we listen.

Tanz der Moleküle is his favorite song. Eyes wide and alive, mouth an excited teeny O, legs pumping. It makes him happy every time.

To Bach’s Cello Suite 1 he is uncannily still. He doesn’t fervently scan the room like usual. There is deep peace in his face. I sense that his attention has turned to his insides, to the rich, welling sensation of beauty echoing in him.

He’s bowled over by Love on Top. With each key change, his eyebrows raise a little more, seeming to say “Excuse me? Damn,” and when Queen Bey jumps that final umpteenth time his eyebrows are so high they could change a lightbulb.

I play Martha. Within seconds his lower lip pouts and trembles, tears fill his eyes. And every time the chorus comes, with its major turn, his sadness lifts.

It is astonishing to watch him respond to music like a grown-up, with all the expression and emotion common to sublime experience. Which means of course that grownups (if they’re really listening) respond to music like babies. Our experience of music feels so personal and subjective but elementally it is technical and objective: sad songs reliably feel sad, the eardrum knows the woeful vibrations.

Witnessing him, I’m reminded that music is the art form with the most direct line to the heart and soul (paraphrasing many), and that ‘without music, life would be a mistake’ (Nietzsche).

I play Jeep’s Blues. He is confused. He doesn’t dig it and I am gravely disappointed. Maybe musical taste is more nurture than nature.

He fusses and squirms and wants to be picked up. I pick him up and hum to calm him down. Without music, parenting would be impossible.