The kids’ music box is magical, if just in my own non-fantastical definition of the word. I found it during our first big cleaning spree after having the girls when we moved our bedrooms together into a combined, one room situation that, for nearly nine months, was our living room/nursery/master suite/entertainment ‘space’ — although it lacked any real space but a cowpath. My husband had collected the music box years ago and it existed here among our stuff long before I arrived. It had been moved off William’s dresser to a random shelf in the room among ten thousand other things and lost in the miasma of stuff. I can safely say it had never been a favorite piece of decor, partly because with the amount of ‘stuff’ babies and toddlers attain, well, I’ve begun to resent frivolous things like decorations. I have to take care of them on top of everything else. And, seriously, I have enough to do besides babysitting glorified dust collectors on top of it all… I mean, unless they hold that ‘something‘ that makes them tolerable — I’m not completely inhuman.
But my general hatred for many traditional knickknacks means their usual fate is pretty grim. Even fantasy themed ones like this don’t garner much respect from me, even though I am an avid fantasy epic kinda girl. In-home is where I tolerate only much more macabre trinkets like various taxidermy, real bones, feathers, tarot cards, geological material, ouija boards, and books. Once upon a time my pictures in my house were of gore scenes because I was that young woman that hung pictures of vultures eating carrion just to fuck with house guests and anybody selling religion at my front door where the image was viewable. I want stuff that substitutes as art, that offends uptight people, is possibly utilitarian, and/or is just interesting. I try to find ways to unload useless decor on unsuspecting others or a nearby dumpster.
I picked up the music box last not knowing it was a music box at all. I found the turn-key on the underside of the base and that surprised me because it certainly did not look like a traditional music box, just novelty junk sculpture. After living here, at the time, for over a year I was surprised I’d missed it. I wanted to see if it was useful before I deemed it in need of going to the storage-box or garbage.
The scene that it displays is a stereotypical wizard dealing with a dragon holding wind chimes. It seems to speak towards the idea of amusing a beast with magic and music while on some kind of crystal cliff. Perhaps the well-laid trap by a wizard? Perhaps a friendship of two great forces? It seemed like a good fairytale scene — just pure escapism.
The extra-large base of the sculpture holds the actual music box. I decided I could put it to work in the kids room to do its one simple task, so it wound up settling on Aurora’s dresser. Some nights I began opting to play just the music box rather than our not-so-useful routine of trying to force my kids to listen to classical music — Brahm, Beethoven, Mozart, Satie, Pachellbel, Busoni, Chopin, etc. — which had worked as babies but was no longer settling the kids because, well, technological devices were tempting.
Miraculously, the music box worked.
Now, it wasn’t a cure to all that ails bedtime, this I grant. The music is too brief to assume it would ever put them to sleep instantly. Instead, though, it always seems to still them long enough to have the lights turned out, the adults leave, and the music carry the girls elsewhere in quiet thought. In my sentence of motherhood, which was raising twins in the sheltered prison of an Adirondack winter, it became the one thing that, even if just briefly, summoned an actual reprieve from hours of long episodic states of kid chaos. It also steeled my routine with the girls, leaving me feeling like when I said bedtime I meant it. The music box had played.
I began to really adore the odd music box. Sure, there are times I have to go up and wind it a few times, but it’s always catching assuming no one has a soiled diaper or necessity not being met — and that I love. It’s a litmus test that everyone is ready to go down to dreamland, just as much as it’s an aid in getting them there.
As a writer and tour guide to the imaginary, I have always assumed that magic might be a bit fickle if it were real — just like crafting art or real life happiness is — and this sort of proves it to my inner storyteller. The greatest achievements of musical minds pumped out on repeat cannot capture what a small song does as it sounds from this carillons à musique. It leaves the girls to do the resting they deeply desire but can’t attain without some sort of enchantment ritual to let them relax. Once that’s done, the rest they do themselves. It does all this by acting like a slowing metronome capable of laying resistance to bed while the song gently ebbs and the unwinding mechanically slows. It charms my personal clutch of dragons away from constant intrigue in exchange for patterned calm that they need to achieve sleep. Hypnotic side-effects are immediately evident once it starts to play and its spell sets a mood that, as a mother, is amazing to watch and listen to as it works.
Part of its magic is in its singular activity — which in our modern day we disregard as wasteful. But here it serves a real purpose for limitation of interest in the object. Unlike all their other toys or streaming music capable apparatuses we own, the music box merely utilizes a rolling drum armed with pins which pluck metal plates to a patterned song as it turns. It does require a clicking wind-up before it can play but nothing else. In an age when with speakers and digital sound dominate from intense technological gadgetry, this is the one device that transcends them all by being so finite. The item playing the music isn’t as interesting as the music itself for once. Laptops, iPads, Kindles, whirling musical nightlights, and fandangle what’s-its are all things with multiple agendas and capabilities. In the currently small lives of my children that makes those things truly in need of investigation, which is their general modus operandi. They can’t shut down in the face of all the other interesting things those other devices are capable of doing that demand inquisition. This is not to say those things are bad — far from it. Those are wonderful things in proper context and outside of bedtime. But when consistency and limit counts, this has all that’s required. The music plays the same lullaby every time and all the spells of a busy day are broken when it sounds because that’s all it ever does.
To a daydreaming mother this music box is perhaps my most poignant tool at night even if everything else has gone to pot or William has them all excited or if someone is not feeling the greatest (including me). I am halted in the power it has to attract the reflective attention of my kids who are too little to realize what is happening with any real scope. Two little girls are totally stilled as its notes play out across their room like they are wandering along with the melody used to charm a little dragon in an escapist saga I’ve heard a hundred times before in a hundred different ways. It makes all the stories of unruly beasts falling at the hands of a small song and little bard find a hint of realism.
In a darker retrospect I am also keen to explore, this also warns of the luring and terrifying power such simple enchantment can also play. I think of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and the tunes he used to possess and kill 130 children – although it’s metaphor for a long dead truth, buried in fear and story, it’s still a damn inspiring one to the realism it draws links to. As a child I remember the story disturbed me and, yet, held deep fascination to me. This trinket has, beautifully cemented my love and fear of that story because little ‘magics’, tempting ‘magics’, are real things in the real world, at least metaphorically speaking. In this case it is an innocent bewitching, but in other cases it might not be.
This music box is enchanting in a very real world sense – from my children’s innocent and youthful usage of its relaxing song, to the long-winded adult extrapolations it inspires in me. Those are its real charms, made and enjoyed by its users. I feel wholly appreciative of it these days for all it gives by just doing one job and doing it well. Not all enchantment is good or gracious but finding the most innocent of it is unimaginably fun and informative when you come across it.
Too often we look at complicated things to give us joy. And too often we look to the darkest things to give us warnings. Sometimes small, good things can give us perspective — even if they are, for all intensive purposes, just junk. It is one of the greatest joys in being a mother to try and find these positive and isolated forms of translation to my small, little-sentence forming kids. It’s also one of the strangest jobs in motherhood.
And now, frankly, I have another story I need to write…