My singing “Rock-a-bye, babe” to each of my four children paled compared to my Greek husband’s singing of “Ela, epne, kai pare to, kai…” (“Come, Sleep, take this little one and…”) His singing put them to sleep; mine kept them awake. Eventually, I learned a little song from the intervals played between programs on Greek national radio. Accompanied by a soulful clarinet played in minor tones, in these words –“Tsombanakos imouna, provtakia fylaga, ma then fylaga polla, kammia pendakossaria” (“I was a shepherd, lambs I cared for. But I didn’t care for too many, only about 500”)–I found a lullaby to suit my abilities and purpose.
My search for lullabies is an attempt to regain the warm, soft moments of holding my babies close to me. Babies grow up and begin their own journeys, but lullabies remain to remind us of their infancy. These Greek lullabies sing the journeys a mother wishes for her child: journeys to big cities to find dowries, or to gardens to “fill his shirt with roses and flowers,” or even to “the peak of Liakouras” to fight for his freedom from the Turks. No matter the destination, a mother’s wishes attend every step of her child’s travels.