Iz and me, we’re close. If he walked the Earth among us still, I’d get in touch with his agent and suggest he tour sleep schools for infants. I know his harmony and lyrics like they were my own. He is always there, ever present. Well, at three hour intervals anyway.
I remember the first time Iz Kamakawiwoʻole came bouncing into my life. He was cool, calm and collected and I was a bit of a sweaty mess as I clung to the traction of the treadmill. I felt so moved that the music clip seemed to be a eulogy to his life and the beautiful voice behind his soft, sweet haunting rendition was from a man no longer with us. My husband too, seemed to have been struck by his dulcet tones and the soft bounce of the slightly livelier beat over the original version of the classic 'Over the Rainbow'. He'd bought the track around the same time and I’d felt happier knowing that this was now somewhere in the realms of a late Sunday afternoon shuffle. When J was four months, I’d gone looking for it in the depths of one of our music libraries. From a very small baby, it was difficult to know how to calm a screaming bundle. I would spend days on end waiting for him to just drop off to sleep. Isn’t that what babies did? All my mummy friends were exasperated by the fact that I wasn't napping when he was. So babies were meant to nap! But if not of their own weary volition nudging them gently towards it every day like clockwork, then how? One author, who I later found had published childless, told me straight up to lie him in the cot on his side, averting all eye contact and apply gentle pats until he lulled off to a calming sleep all by himself. But J had never heard such nonsense. He’d wriggle back firmly, look me straight in the eye and start to whimper against being repressed, until the whimperings became firm objections. The look in his eye told me he’d been here before and I was in need of a higher power than a childless consultant who had a way with words and a good pr team behind her. I was flirting with rock bottom around four one afternoon following another sleepless night, when I rather dramatically found myself sliding a weary thigh down a kitchen cupboard before bottom came heavily to collapse on the tiles. With arms thrown hopelessly over knees, I launched into an exhausted bout of loud crying before big wet, sloppy tears came gushing down my cheeks. I dialled a good friend in London whose little boy was roughly six months older than mine, and she seemed to me to be the perfect and most together mum with all the answers. Often the call went to the machine but I felt that in my utterly beside myself state, she would dive for the phone and throw me a life line. Whilst this was happening, my darling boy sat opposite me bouncing happily away with a moist ear of his most loved bunny wedged devotedly between toothless gums. The line answered. Thank goodness, because a message on the machine to prolong my chance of her getting to me in time would shoot my lowest hour into the annuls! But much to my chagrin, it was her very lovely, very caring, very Greek mother-in-law that I had met only once. Answering the phone to a flood of my tears, gulping for breath had, of course, alarmed her. I heard a very beside myself me blurt sloppily out between sharp inhalations of breath and ask whether my dear friend was in residence. Upon discovering though that my life was not in danger and a little three kilo person with tufts of blonde hair and a normally delightful disposition was the cause of such distress, she calmly directed me to my kitchen cupboard for a bottle of virgin olive oil. The instruction was then given to pour a generous amount over his torso before commencing to massage him into submission - a guaranteed pearl of ancient Greek wisdom to send any baby straight to sleep!
In the days following, I didn't quite reach the line that required conjuring up some good old style Greek massage, but on the verge of a potential bout of cabin fever, I scooped babe up in arms, turned up the tunes and danced happily around to an old fave that had a suitably boppy beat, and lapped the dining room table with a swift skip in my step. I got a little lost in the mood, happy endorphins began to stir post a long hibernation since toe had last touched treadmill, and I must have closed my eyes about a verse and a half in. Just as Dire Straits was about to strum into chorus, I opened them to find J with his little mouth thrown wide, eyes lolling back behind little half closed lids. There may have even have been a faint purr spilling forth from behind his tonsils, though it was hard to detect behind the crashing eighties beat blaring through the Bang and Olufson. For a frightful moment I froze in mid step, not knowing whether to tip toe with the greatest of stealth, light as a feather (very hard for me) over to his cot and gently ease him in, or continue Highland Flinging it around the kitchen table, keeping up the rocking motion. Was I to fade the music out in true eighties style to the faintest of decibels before kicking of the next track with a Brahm’s? Or best to see out the whole pop rocking playlist we had only just kicked off with? My head was a blur. What I did know was from that moment on, whenever daytime napping was an issue, I would crank the music up, cradle him snugly in the crook of my right arm and sail into song with whatever took me at that moment. As soon as the room faded into soft, peaceful quiet, he would stir within minutes, stretch, look around for me over the lip of his cot, and glare at me through furrowed brows prompting a: WHY would you DO that??
But as long as I threatened the peace of our apartment floor and those directly above and below in our regimented Swiss building, the longer he would sleep happily through. As for the bright idea of me napping when he napped though, emptying and stacking the dishwasher seemed more apt. I began to go in search of songs and compiled a playlist and this is where Iz first changed my life. The gentle bounce and lilt of his beautiful voice seemed the perfect bouncing beat to rock a bub off. The lyrics were repetitive and quick to learn, the tune easy to follow, all in a register that was easy to hum.
Five months later, I am in a bid to save my back from further disrepair from hundreds of hours spent rocking J off to sleep every nap and bedtime. In deciding to give Controlled Comforting a go, he now responds to lieing on his side (bunny ear still firmly wedged between gummy gums and two new teeth peeking through), averting eye contact while I pat him softly. But Iz is always with us, as it is only as I hum his tune gently through tingling lips, that he’ll calm himself enough to listen, eyes closed, and fall asleep.