Things that go beep before 'night-'night

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A Miami firm, the Personalized Song Company, has teamed up with Playskool to produce a timesaving idea for busy parents: a recording of custom-tailored lullabies. For $14.45, Playskool will send an audio cassette with a baby's name inserted into three original songs. After goodnight kisses and hugs, a parent can simply flip on the tape player and leave the room, hopeful the child will be lulled to sleep by a soothing male voice half singing, half speaking lyrics like these: ``Stephanie, it's time for bed now. Stephanie, come along now. Little Stephanie, come to bed. Close your eyes, lay your weary head on the pillow.... After such a busy day, it's high time you were on your way to dreamland.... Stephanie, close your eyes.''

Brahms's Lullaby it isn't. Yet the tape is part of a mini-industry springing up to supply recorded music and stories for babies and young children. Titles such as ``Lullabies and Night Sounds'' and ``Wee Sing Nursery Rhymes and Lullabies'' bring the resources of technology to what was once thought of as the art of parenting. Just press ``Play'' and tiptoe out.

Even the tiniest family members are catered to. A new tape called ``Transitions'' supposedly ``provides a soothing, sleep-inducing environment for newborns.'' Produced by Placenta Music Inc., the recording combines ``womb sounds'' with ``soft, female vocal harmonies and other meditative sounds'' - the ultimate in reassurance-by-synthesizer.

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Time was when those ``soft, female vocal harmonies'' came from a baby's mother, who needed no electronic gear. She might not have been blessed with perfect pitch, but no matter. The warmth of her body, the rhythm of the rocking chair, the love in her eyes and voice, as she cuddled her child and sang, more than compensated for any off-key notes.

If the tape player becomes standard in a well-outfitted nursery, will parenting shift to automatic pilot?

Nobody is quite ready to call this ``quality time,'' but you can't get much more efficient than ``One-Minute Bedtime Stories,'' Shari Lewis's recording of 26 fables, fairy tales, and legends. Well-equipped young audiophiles can even listen on their own specially designed Walkman, called My First Sony, which comes complete with colored earphones.

Several years ago a Washington, D.C., psychiatrist, Frances Cress Welsing, tried to explain what she believed had gone wrong with America's children. She concluded that many social problems stemmed from too little ``lap time,'' as she called it.

``This culture has attempted to substitute material things for emotional needs,'' she told an interviewer. ``We will be well into the prevention of all the things we call social ills if we understand the critical importance of adequate emotional nurturing. So much of what we see as social problems is really a search for something to kill the pain of longing, of not feeling validated and loved.''

Is the electronic nursery an idea whose beep-beep time has come? Will all these disembodied voices and synthesized musical scores eventually make rocking chairs and laps and storybooks obsolete?

Probably not. For every parent who thinks recorded lullabies and nursery rhymes represent progress, there are countless others who still attend to bedtime rituals the old-fashioned, hands-on way: a parent, a child, a story, a song, a prayer, a drink.

Somewhere some ``star wars'' type of task force may be working on it, but so far no one has invented a robot that can tuck in the covers, deliver a goodnight kiss, and fetch a glass of water when a small voice calls plaintively through the darkness, ``Mommy, I'm thirsty....''

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