The rhyme "Rock-a-Bye Baby" was originally titled “Hush-a-Bye Baby,” and it has been attributed to a pilgrim boy who witnessed the traditions of Native American women as they placed the babies in the boughs of trees to sleep. It has also been attributed to the family members of Kate Kenyon who lived in a tree in Derbyshire during the 1700s. Most of us have at one time or another heard these words sung lovingly to infants in the arms of mothers:
“Rock-a-bye baby on the tree top, When the wind blows the cradle will rock, When the bough breaks the cradle will fall, And down will come baby, cradle and all.”
However, when my daughters were infants, it really bothered me to sing to them about falling out of trees. It struck me as odd to be comforting them in my arms while seeding fear in them with my words. I changed the words and sang the following to them:
“Rock-a-bye baby in mama's arms. When the wind blows she'll be far from harm. When the bough breaks, away from the tree, Will be my baby (name) and me.”
Not until recently, when my eldest daughter had her children, did she, or her younger sister, know the real words. They had never questioned the origins, and I had forgotten about changing the words. My daughter’s mother-in-law called attention to it when she heard the words being sung to our shared grandchildren and asked about the changes.
As my children mused over the change in wording and the fact that they had taken them for granted for so many years, I was struck by the way these young women, my babies, seemed to treasure the memories they associated with this little song. Both recalled having heard the words and how they had felt safe enough to face anything because they knew my arms would always protect them. I did not dream the simple word changes in a nursery rhyme had altered the thinking of my now adult children so dramatically. Each one, in her individual way, expressed how the wording had comforted them during challenging times.
After over thirty years of hearing the song with my words, my daughters now sing it the same way to their infant children. My eldest told me that each day as a little girl in her kindergarten class, she would remember the words of this little song and know that she would be alright no matter what was going on around her. They both have also given me the most beautiful compliment I have ever received. They want their children to be given the same warm feelings and memories when they leave mamas arms each day and face the world. I could never have conceived, as a very young mother, that my decision to change these nursery rhyme words would change the way two very strong women remember the childhoods they lived.
A tradition cannot be just started on a whim. Its beginnings take time and ongoing efforts, a gestation period, a birth and then growth. I have only now, after so many years, realized, with the arrival of my brand new grandchildren, how a tradition was born so many years ago.