“Shania Twain Sang Me to Sleep” by Jessica Mundie

The first years of my life were exhausting. On August 11, 1998, I was placed in my mother’s loving arms, blue faced and cone-headed, after a 36-hour labour, forceps, and many stitches. Sleeplessness began before I had even made my appearance in the world.

Being my parent’s first child, they had no idea what to do with me. I am often reminded of the story of my homecoming: my parents placing my car seat on the coffee table, sharing a look, and my father asking, “What do we do now?”

Little did they know, the rest of my infanthood would be enshrouded by a blanket of colic.

Every evening, around dinner time, the wailing would begin. My mother would sit me in my highchair, beside her and my father at the dinner table, and they would try to talk over my loud screaming. It would continue long into the night. As most people turned off their lights and cuddled up in bed, my parents were awake trying to soothe their sad baby.

They desperately tried to shut me up: I was swaddled, massaged, bathed and nurtured, but I would not relent. Eventually, after many months of little sleep, they discovered I had two weaknesses: an endless desire for food and a love of Shania Twain.

In March of 1999, Twain’s Man! I Feel Like a Woman was released on North American country radio stations. This came seven months after my birth and about when my parents realized they were losing their minds.

I am not sure how my mother made the discovery, but to my parent surprise and extreme relief, they found that if I was bounced up and down, in an excruciatingly consistent manner, while listening to Shania Twain celebrate the prerogative of women everywhere, I would fall asleep.

I could not tell you why I loved Shania Twain so dearly. Maybe as a baby I was already identifying with my strong feminist values, or maybe I just loved Canadian country stars. Either way, now every time Man! I Feel Like a Woman comes on at my local country bar, I can be counted on to belt out the lyrics.  

After the discovery that saved their sanity, my parents played me all different genres of music. I took my first steps with the waltz of the Blue Danube, spoke my first word alongside the croon of Leonard Cohen, and was ushered off to kindergarten to the tune of David Bowie.

Unfortunately, as a preschooler, I still had trouble sleeping. I was too big to be bounced, so either my dad would lay in bed with me until we both inevitably drifted off (a habit that has ruined his sleep schedule to this day) or my mom would sit on the edge of my bed rubbing my back and singing until I fell asleep.

I made requests. At night I liked folk: James Taylor, Peter Paul and Mary, and Gordon Lightfoot were regulars. My mom has a beautiful voice. She would sing me hit songs, hidden gems, and her own creations. I was particularly fond of The Water is Wide, which, accompanied by my mother’s soft hand on my back, would never fail to row me delicately to sleep.

I went through an 80s pop phase in grade school. After dinner, my mom, brother, and I would hold dance parties in in our dining room. We pushed the big table to the wall and took over the hardwood floor. We grooved to Take On Me, shimmied to Tarzan Boy, and head banged to Come on Eileen. Then, my favourite was Girls Just Want to Have Fun, an ode to my roots as a fan of female power ballads.

Middle school came with a love for teenage rebellion rock. An interesting time in my music history. My angst-filled years were fueled by My Chemical Romance and my own evil insecurities. I try not to think of this time: it was painfully sad, as most middle school experiences are.

There was a light at the end of the puberty-induced tunnel, and it came in the form of five glorious teenage boys. One Direction. I often credit my sexual awakening to this group and sincerely appreciate their ability to pull me out of the depressed hole I had fallen into.

My mother got to experience the true power of One Direction at their second concert in Ottawa. Their two shows in my city were held on the first days of my last year in high school. My infatuation had considerably diminished by this point. I was older, and I had a real boyfriend, but I still dragged my poor mom into the ruthless pit of teenage obsession. (She said she had fun.) These concerts would be the end of my “Directioner” phase. They would close the door on boy bands and high school and open the door to adulthood and university.

Unshackled from the world of top pop hits, I was loose and wandering, genre-less. Slowly, I found my way back to the music that started it all, the music of my parents.

It began with Bob Dylan, my dad’s all-time favorite. I downloaded his entire discography one night and listened to his top hits, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Like a Rolling Stone, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. Dylan lead me into a whole new world of 60s and 70s rock. The Eagles. Joni Mitchell. The Band. Simon and Garfunkel. Fleetwood Mac. All artists my parents grew up listening to and played for me as a kid.

Listening to this music is my most addictive nostalgia. I listen to the songs from my childhood and am reminded of vacations, dance parties, and sleepless nights. The same thing happens when I listen to music from middle school or find a playlist from a high school party. I can relive these moments over and over again.

My taste has evolved in recent years. I am not a stickler about genre or artist as much as I was, I will listen to anything as long as it sounds good. My current obsessions are Lizzo – a rapper, The Lumineers – a folk band, and Joan Jett – a 70s rocker.

But I will always have a love for the classics.

This summer, my parents, brothers, and I took a day trip to Montreal to drop one of my brothers off at McGill for his first year. I was in charge of music for the drive. My playlist started off with a classic, Super Tramp, Goodbye Stranger. It got a “nice one” and a nod from my mom. Paul Simon followed. Kodachrome. She started tapping the steering wheel.

The noise of the car took over. My youngest brother fell asleep, the other turned to his phone. My parents and I silently enjoyed the tunes. The next song was for them.  

Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under. Shania Twain.

This one got a loud, “Whoa!” from the front seat. My mom gasped, taken back in time 21 years. I started singing along. My dad turned around with a big smile, fingers pointed at me in pride, bopping his head.

“Oh god,” my mom sighed and shook her head. “You were an exhausting baby.”

JESSICA MUNDIE (she/her) is a creative writer and journalist from Ottawa, ON. She is a graduate of Carleton University where she studied journalism, English, and drama studies. When she is not writing, she can usually be found baking or walking her dog. In January, she will begin her master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School in New York City.

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