Have you ever really paid attention to children’s nursery rhymes and songs? They can be downright twisted and scary, if not plain dumb.
Recently, my husband and I had to take our three-year-old Becca Boo in for an EEG. In order to calm and distract her from the electrodes they were attaching to her head, they played some kiddie music.
A verse from one of the songs went: The old man never said his prayers, so they grabbed him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs!
Holy cow! With verses like that, it’s no wonder our daughter had some serious concerns about the procedure she was undergoing. Like, “Mom, do you REALLY think this nurse is a safe person for me to be around? Just listen to her taste in music!”
And then there is The Farmer in the Dell. It starts out with the farmer taking a wife, then the wife taking a nurse and the nurse taking a baby and so on until you go through a string of animals, ending with the mouse taking the cheese and then… the cheese stands alone.
What does this really mean?
Is the cheese the hero in this song? Is it striking a heroic pose atop the wheat silo, red cape flowing, to protect the innocent farm people?
Or was it stinky cheese? Couldn’t the cheese take a cracker? And if it did, what would the cracker take? Milk?
What if the cheese decided to take wine instead? Did they leave that part out because they thought encouraging children to drink alcohol is inappropriate… but encouraging homicide (like with the old man who didn’t say prayers) is okay?
Maybe the cheese takes the wine and then goes on a tear around the farm, running the Farmer’s wife’s panties up the silo. Maybe the cheese is a code name for the family uncle… the one nobody likes to talk about. Maybe that’s why he stands alone.
You know, one of the nursery songs that always concerned me as a kid was the so called lullaby Rock-A-Bye Baby. Just when the song gets you all settled and drowsy, the bough breaks and down comes baby cradle and all. What is this?? What mom really thinks singing about dangerous situations is going to reassure a child that all is well with the world and she can fall asleep in complete trust?
Was this the song mothers invented when they’d plain had ENOUGH of their children and wanted some peace and quiet OR ELSE?
Was it one of those subliminal message songs? Kid, you better get some shut-eye or I’m gonna shut those eyes good and fine myself!
That’s about as reassuring as this bedtime prayer we all know so well. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Die??? I’m gonna die??? While I’m sleeping??? Does that mean I’ll never wake up again? Is this what my parents hoped for?
It’s no surprise to me that children don’t like this prayer. I’m thinking that Grimm and many others had it in for kids. But what amazes me is that even today, with everyone armed with pop psychology, so many of these cruel rhymes, songs and stories are repeated for children. It’s GOT to be acceptable because it remains one of the perks for parents. How else are you going to get even with the little darlings and not get arrested by the Parenting Police?
Meanwhile, kiddies, let me tell you about this little girl with a red cape and a basket of goodies that she’s taking to Grandma’s house…