Care and Feeding

I Caught My Sister Singing a Creepy Lullaby to My Baby

I don’t want her near my daughter.

Baby laying on its back with a toy in their hand.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Larisa Rudenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

I have a 4-month-old daughter, “Matilda.” Like most infants, she’s wonderful, but also a little handful, so I’ve been very fortunate to have family who is both able and willing to step in and help. Somewhat surprising was an offer to help from my older sister, (She’s 35, I’m 29) “Harriet.” She has been pretty openly child-free and never really seemed to like kids, but last week she offered to watch my daughter when I had to run out for some errands.

I went, errands were done, Harriet didn’t report any issues, and when I got back she was even singing to my daughter. Specifically, I heard her sing “Twinkle twinkle little brat. I will feed you to the cat.” We do not in fact have a cat, and it was sung in the same sort of calming, singsong voice twinkle “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is usually sung in.

Needless to say, this sparked an argument between us, and our husbands got pulled into it as well. Harriet’s of the position that it doesn’t mean anything, a child that young doesn’t understand words anyway, and she got bored singing the same lines over and over again. I don’t want her near my daughter anymore, but a lot of my family thinks I’m overreacting. Am I? I don’t actually think she’ll mistreat my child or feed her to a cat, but I think her attitude towards children is enough to not leave mine with her anymore.

—Possibly Overreacting

Dear Possibly Overreacting,

I am genuinely sorry to you for the way I laughed when I read this question. I know this felt like a violation of the way you view your beloved child, and I know you are only looking out for your child’s best interests. But some people are more precious about kids than others, and it sounds to me like you and Harriet are just very different in that respect. Some people see childhood as a time of sacred innocence, to be protected at all costs. Others view children just as slightly smaller people who are sometimes assholes. Neither POV is wrong, but just because someone doesn’t treat children as sacrosanct beings does not mean they would ever hurt one, or even that they hate them.

Even people who don’t particularly like children are still capable of understanding and respecting their importance in your life because they love you. If Harriet is someone who doesn’t like being around children, it makes her offer to babysit even more meaningful. She’s willing to do something she doesn’t enjoy as an act of service and love to you and your child. She is willing to sit and sing to your—admittedly somewhat difficult—baby for long enough to get tired of the song, despite the fact that it’s not really her thing.

Your baby doesn’t know what lyrics Harriet was singing. All she saw was a person who was caring for her and singing to her in a soothing voice. As long as Harriet is a good person and you trust her beyond her dark sense of humor, I wouldn’t make too much of it.

—Emily

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