Song for a Fifth Child (Babies Don't Keep)
by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton


Ruth Hulburt Hamilton with first child

Song for a Fifth Child,commonly known as Babies Don't Keep, was only one part of the life journey of Ruth Hulburt Hamilton.

Ruth was the mother of four children aged 11,9,7 and 5 when her fifth child, Jane, was born. “The children were all older when Jane was born and they would rush home to see her and hold her. Since there were five years between my next youngest and Jane, I had a bit more quiet time with her.” Ruth recalls.

Ruth’s daughter, Jeremy, remembers well how her mother rocked her and sang with them as children. Some of their favorite songs were “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “Dark Brown is the River.”

Ruth Hulburt Hamilton on shopping trip

Ruth was born in Kirksville, Missouri in 1921 and she lived most of her life in Oak Park, Illinois. She married when she was 23 and became a mother for the first time at 25. Her poem, Song for a Fifth Child, was published in Ladies Home Journal in 1958 and has found a treasured place in the hearts of mothers for generations and today it is widely known as Babies Don't Keep.

It honors the everyday efforts of motherhood. It honors the sacred in the mundane and the cultural tensions that pull at us all as mothers. Bills, errands and housework will always be there so we should savor the precious, short time, we are given with our babies.

Ruth’s poem has often been misquoted. It is published here in its entirety with permission from the author. Enjoy.

Song for a Fifth Child by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton (1921- )

Mother, oh mother, come shake out your cloth!
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery, blissfully rocking!

Oh, I've grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby, loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew
And out in the yard there's a hullabaloo
But I'm playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren't her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.)

Oh, cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby. Babies don't keep.

Thank you Ruth Hulburt Hamilton for affirming our priorities as mothers and reminding all of us to put our babies first and let the rest go.

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