Love Songs and Love Songs

By FennecCooper/ Flickr

By Tamiko Nimura

This time it hurt just to walk, for months.

Despite regular walks, despite yoga, despite the latest belly support devices for pregnant moms, every step was labored and small. I hadn’t expected this. Since I’d already been pregnant once and had our first daughter, I thought that I knew what to expect with the second. I thought my pregnancy and her infancy would be familiar, wrapped in a bit of the unfamiliar.

How do you write about your second child? To do her justice, to give her due time in the sun? Part of the problem was that I was a lifelong reader and overachiever, finding too much comfort in the preparation, the predictable, the expectable. With our first daughter I had read parenting manuals every week, every month, finding out What to Expect and What to Avoid and What to Expect to Avoid. I tried not to read too far into the “what happens when things REALLY go wrong” chapters of the book. A man who likes to prepare calmly for the worst, my husband Josh did read those chapters. He was terrified most of the time, a fact he took great pains to hide from me and did not confess until years after our daughters were born. I’ve heard that pregnancies after the first one are easier, since the systems have been primed. So in some ways, my second pregnancy really was easier. We didn’t crack a single parenting book.

And then our second daughter Sophie was born.

Not long after she was born, we’d somehow managed to rent and watch Juno. We’d heard Juno was funny, and touching, with a Holden Caulfield female protagonist who called bullshit on anything or anyone phony. Before renting the movie, we might or might not have known that Juno was about an unplanned teenage pregnancy. And I don’t think anyone had told us about the soundtrack’s Wes Anderson-esque use of music as a form of characterization. (The geeky Michael Cera, lacing up his track shoes to “A Well-Respected Man”? Brilliant.) During the movie we waited, as the title character did, for the birth of her child.

Unlike our first daughter Ella, newborn Sophie was colicky, which we did not expect. As in, did-not-expect-the-Spanish-Inquisition unexpected. Her colic meant that for about an hour and a half every day, she would cry. Hard. Car rides, manufactured ocean sounds, soft toys, slow dances, swaddling her like a tightly wrapped burrito—none of it could help her to stop.

Josh and I took turns holding Sophie for these hours, along with any other family members who were able to take her crying in stride. Thankfully we didn’t panic as we would have with our first, or take it personally. With Ella, we were worried about her crying: “Is there something we can do?” and we would find that something. We knew enough from raising Ella that Sophie didn’t really need anything when she cried. We knew enough to run down our unwritten what-does-baby-need? checklist. She wasn’t wet, she wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t tired, she wasn’t scared—she just needed to cry. We did consult the parenting manuals for this situation; one parenting manual told us that colic was a result of babies storing up energy all day and having nowhere else to put it, except in tears.

As experienced parents we were physiologically primed, and our bodies leapt to respond to her cries. It’s said that a common torture device is to play sounds of babies crying to prisoners. I believed it then. If we left Sophie with her grandma for an hour or two and ventured out into the world without her, we would still sway wherever we stood, as if we were rocking her. Our heads practically snapped over at the sound of another baby crying in a restaurant. During colic all we could do was hold her, and sing to her, and dance with her, and hope that eventually she’d tire herself out and fall asleep.

I made up a mix of very, very slow dance songs that I could listen to and sing to Sophie while she was crying. The soundtrack helped me more than it helped her. In those colicky newborn days, I found that whatever helped the parent would translate in some way into help for the baby. (A note to future parents: Al Green’s “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” did not seem to ease the situation.) Colic, or what we started to call Sophie’s “sad time of day” lasted for three and a half months, every afternoon. With colic, our parenting response wasn’t about panic; it was about a bittersweet fatigue, a terrible and wondrous surrender.

The resulting exhaustion may be why Juno’s “Sea of Love” hit me so hard.

Before watching the movie I had heard “Sea of Love” by The Honeydrippers, with its lovingly schmaltzy strings, Robert Plant’s most lounge-singer voice, and a backup chorus. The Honeydrippers version is a love song, dedicated to a romantic love interest. In fact, Josh had put it on a mix tape for me, in the years when we still made mix tapes and wrote letters to each other.

Do you remember when we met?

That’s the day I knew you were my pet

I want to tell you how much I love you 

I listened to those tapes over and over again, as if they were letters meant for me, as I suppose they were. So I knew “Sea of Love” very well; it made me smile every time. It’s a song with barely one verse and one chorus. It’s a song about the tiny magic of a first meeting, and how that might become the vast promise of a future. In the song the speaker actually never does tell the listener “how much” the love is; it’s all about the invitation and the promise.

In the movie, after Juno gives birth to her child, the baby’s adoptive mother meets her child while Cat Power sings “Sea of Love” over a sparse ukelele. It’s a series of cinematic moments that now strike me as a perfect metaphor for the bittersweet nature of mothering: the simultaneous joy of meeting life coupled with the raw ache of letting it go. We hear a few chords played on the ukelele, soft as baby blankets, and then she sings the chorus:

Come with me, my love

To the sea, the sea of love 

I want to tell you how much I love you


Do you remember when we met?

That’s the day I knew you were my pet

I want to tell you how much I love you 

I hate to cry, but I cried when I heard “Sea of Love” just then: I was holding my sleeping baby daughter against my chest. The energy had nowhere to go, except in tears. And to this day, I still crave the warmth I felt right then; to this day, thanks to the colic, Sophie still needs and asks for cuddling.

That’s how I found out that a romantic love song could be a motherlove song. Music writers might say that’s what a good cover does: it takes the familiar and makes it new enough to be interesting. This version of “Sea of Love” now belongs to my second daughter, just her: the magic of “when we met,” the infinite promise of love’s telling, the renewed knowledge of mothering as something as vast, as complex, and as deeply textured as the layers of the sea itself. It is the familiar wrapped in the beautifully unfamiliar; it is the love for my second child.


TAMIKO NIMURA is a freelance writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in Edible Seattle, Discover Nikkei, Seattle Star, Avidly, Remedy Quarterly, and New California Writing 2012. She is working on a book, a novel, and other essays. For more of her writing, see her blog, Kikugirl (

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