Lullay, My Liking

One of my earliest memories is lying under the glowing Christmas tree with all the other lights off, listening to my dad’s LP collection of Christmas music.  Last year, as I tried to recreate this collection digitally, I rediscovered a song that was deeply embedded in my memory.  Lullay, My Liking—in this case sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir accompanied by the New York Philharmonic—was mesmerizing to me as a child.   

Then, I didn’t understand why it affected me so deeply, but I now realize that the interplay between major and minor chords with a sweet and hopeful resolution at the end set some of my core preferences for emotional music.  Hearing it again more than 40 years later brought memories flooding back. But as a parent, Mary’s 15th century crooning lullaby of “Lullay, mine Liking, my dear Son, mine Sweeting, Lullay, my dear heart, mine own dear darling” struck me somewhat differently.  The poignancy of the resolving chords now sound as fragile to me as they did hopeful. The emotional pull is still there, but deepened with adult understanding.  My own experiences with the devastating love of parenthood has changed the song for me.

We are preparing for Christmas in our house, while the normal business of childhood moves forward.  Schoolwork and after school activities are punctuated by decorating, baking, and driving around to see Christmas lights.  We’ve had some truly lovely days together recently.  Today my 15-year-old daughter and I finished reading excerpts from the Iliad together, and she said “I’m kind of sad it’s over.”  So am I—I was enjoying my over-dramatic reading to render the text a little more understandable, and I was definitely enjoying peaceful learning with my teenager.  My 6-year-old son laughed tonight when he saw me smile at a slightly vulgar reference in his bedtime story.  “I knew it Mom!  You think bums are funny!  Bums are funny and you know it!” He was delighted and we laughed together.   In between two hands of a card game with my daughter, she yelled for her brother to come give her a good luck hug, and I watched these two kids—nine years apart in age–snuggle and giggle as he promised her that she could beat mom because of his hug.  Why did it feel so fragile?  Why was I holding my breath as if truly breathing deeply would shatter a brittle glass ornament too beautiful to last? 

I realized today that it has been a full year since our last major emergency as a family.  The reality of adoption from the foster care system, plus the vagaries of life and health and sometimes overwhelming professional responsibility, has translated into wave after wave of equilibrium-rocking emergencies for us.  What I expected a family to face in a lifetime together, we’ve weathered in a span of 4-5 years.  I seem to be permanently bracing for the next hit.  I wonder if I can shield my own Sweetings through life’s vagaries, constantly worried about their ability to recover from the rocky start in life that they didn’t deserve but survived. 

This Christmas, I want to feel that chordal resolution.  I want to breathe deeply and with full confidence that the countless “I love yous” that you can hear in our house have strengthened the brittleness into intricacy—complicated, but solid.  


  1. This is a very beautiful post! I want to go back to those crazy, chaotic years when there were kids in my house … and I likely didn’t slow down enough to appreciate individual moments, as you have done here. I have re-created some of those resonant emotional experiences after reading your post, and it’s been joyful for me. Thank you too for calling my attention to those beautiful lyrics.

    What blessed and fortunate young humans you have in your home!

  2. This is beautiful, Karen. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences, and I hope that your family gets the chordal resolution that you need and deserve!

  3. This was beautiful. Thank you. I had never considered music with alternating major-minor (happy-sad) harmonies (modal music?) as a metaphor for life. There’s something evocative about the delicate back-and-forth in songs like this one.

    Blessings to you and yours as you work through destabilizing incidents.

  4. I miss the Christmas mornings when I listened to that song with my parents and my sisters.

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