Amy Bratton is the Contributing Editor of the New Leaf blog, Tim Bratton is a regular contributor. They live in Saskatoon, SK with their two sons, Oswald and Ira. They are lay leaders at Riversdale Neighbours Church.
Amy and Tim Bratton have recently welcomed a new member of the family, Ira. Amy is taking a break from editing the blog, but the Brattons wanted to share this reflection on Canadian Children’s entertainment in honour of Ira, and acknowledging that several of the regular blog contributors have children under the age of one year at this time, so we are immersed in children’s culture, as well as reflecting on the Canadian soul.
We have a sizeable collection of vinyl records, which means our toddler loves having a chance to play music on Daddy’s record player. It should be no surprise then that vintage Raffi records are in heavy rotation at our house, many from our own childhood (preserved all these years in Grandma & Grandpa Caswell’s basement). So, yes, we do know all three verses of Baby Beluga by heart, also Down By The Bay and Six Little Ducks; in fact, we sing our son to sleep each night with a rendition of Thanks a Lot.
As much as our son loves this music, the truth is that we do too, and not just for the nostalgia. If you stop and listen to some of Raffi’s songs, like us, you might be struck by a wish that more people were hearing the wholesome, gracious message of these charming kids songs, instead of the messages of fear and distrust that seems to permeate so much of our world these days. For example, instead of a viral spread of fear and speculation about the religious affiliation or ethnic origin of possible terrorists, what if the default perspective in Canada was more like the song, The More We Get Together?
The more we get together Together, together The more we get together The happier we’ll be
‘Cause your friends are my friends And my friends are your friends The more we get together The happier we’ll be
The simple and innocent thought, that the more people we reach out to and make contact with, the better we actually are, can seem like a naive hope these days. Yet, in many Canadian homes, hopefully this is still the message we are teaching our children…and ourselves.
Lyrics like “It’s mine but you can have some, I’d like to share it with you,” were part of what we shared as Canadian kids growing up in the 1980s. It makes you wonder, if this is a unique thing for Canadian children to have been blessed by such winsome entertainers as Raffi, Fred Penner and the trio Sharon, Lois and Bram. Is there something about Canadian aspirations and identity that allowed these particular children’s entertainers to thrive? We can certainly hope that welcoming others, sharing what we have, and being thankful are, at the very least, still aspirations of Canadian culture, even if we too often fall short of these ideals. Indeed, it’s worth recognizing that it was Canada’s willingness to welcome immigrants that made Raffi’s music possible in the first place.
Raffi Cavoukian was born in Cairo, Egypt, to Armenian parents. He didn’t speak any English when he immigrated to Canada with his family at the age of 10, but after picking up a guitar in his late teens, he was soon playing folk music in Toronto coffeehouses. His first aspiration was to be a serious folk musician, for adults, but with some encouragement from his future mother-in-law, he started making Children’s music. He recorded his first kids album, Singable Songs for the Very Young, in the basement studio of Daniel Lanois (who would go on to help produce some of the best albums by U2 & Peter Gabriel) for just $1700. The rest, as they say, is history. What a different history it would have been had Canada not welcomed this immigrant, and provided opportunity for him to share his music with kids around the world.
While America has had its own wholesome children’s entertainment (Mister Fred Rogers, for example), there is something to be said for the unique history of Raffi, and other children’s entertainers in Canada, that points to a beautiful facet of the Canadian character: Our aspiration to welcome and care for diverse people. It would be a tragedy for us to forget this quality as we who were taught to share and make friends when they were young, are now bombarded with media that sends the message to protect yourself, distrust the other and close your doors to strangers.
One way to retain these musical lessons from our childhood is to practice gratitude on a regular basis. At the beginning of this post we mentioned that Raffi’s song, Thanks A Lot, has been our son’s bedtime song. While setting a bedtime routine, we were primarily searching for a song that we as parents wouldn’t get sick of singing over and over. This song fit the bill, but more than that, this simple song (with the beautiful guitar accompaniment of Bruce Cockburn) has some profound lyrics. It helps realign our attitude after hard days. It connects us with our emotions in that tender moment of cuddles before trusting our son will be safe in his bed for the night. We hope this song is also teaching our child to be in touch with his own emotions and to recognize the grace the surrounds him as well. Here are the lyrics:
Thanks a lot, Thanks for Sun in the sky. Thanks a lot, Thanks for clouds so high.
Thanks a lot, Thanks for whispering wind. Thanks a lot, Thanks for the birds in the spring.
Thanks a lot, Thanks for the moonlit night. Thanks a lot, Thanks for the stars so bright.
Thanks a lot, Thanks for the wondering me. Thanks a lot, Thanks for the way I feel.
Thanks for the animals, Thanks for the land, Thanks for the people everywhere.
Thanks a lot, Thanks for all I’ve got. Thanks for all I’ve got.
We are grateful for so many things in this season of raising young children, and Raffi has been part of reminding us of the simple, wholesome values that we need to teach our children.
Or maybe, is it that our children teach us these things?