Monday, 1 December 2014

Nursery Rhymes

Boo is utterly obsessed with nursery rhymes. She has several anthologies, some obscure rhymes appearing but always the same classics. She's learning to sing along and do the actions, she tells me 'tick tock' when she wants hickory dickory dock, she goes one two dee da dough for once I caught a fish alive and loves to exclaim 'why?!' Because it bit my finger so. She makes crazy swimming motions for incy wincy spider getting washed out, flashing hands for twinkle twinkle, she even stands up in preparation to become a little tea pot, short and stout. Her favourite this week is to search through every page asking 'where da baa baa?' for Baa Baa Black Sheep.

It is adorable to watch her so excited, but I am personally quite bored with these ryhmes and wish someone would invent some new songs for children. Maybe modernised too, because no one ever sits on a tuffet, I'm not sure eating curds and whey is very good dietary advice, and should we be teaching our children to expect the kings horses and men to help them when they have a fall?

I feel like I am teaching her about an entirely unrealistic, ridiculous and actually quite gruesome world. I mean, I have to skip goosey gander as I just can't make light of chucking an old man down the stairs because of his religious beliefs. I sometimes add a small disclaimer at the end of these kind of rhymes, although I don't think Boo finds them quite as entertaining as I do, and I wonder if other parents are so cynical. Reading nursery rhymes because I have to gives me the same guilty feeling I know I will get when I have to invent Santa Claus. The peer pressure and her beaming smile makes me do it, but it's all lies!

So here follows some disclaimers to the universe, because I know that what I'm reading out is silly and I want you to know that I know that:

- Rock a bye baby on the tree top. Just don't ever ever do this, it is highly dangerous.

- Humpty Dumpty. What is this, an egg man? Why did he think it would be a good idea to sit up on a high wall if he is an EGG?!

- Ring a ring a roses. This song is about the Black Death and it sounds like a lovely song with beautiful illustrations but the image in my mind is always a mass grave of decaying bodies.

- The old woman who lived in a shoe was lucky she didn't also live in current times. She would otherwise be living in a prison cell, charged with neglect, her children would be in care and the Daily Mail would be loving it. The shoe house would make a great episode on Grand Designs though. 

- Three blind mice. As if they didn't have it bad enough, poor little creatures, it is a cruel, cruel world.

- Sing a song of sixpence. A great anti-anthem for socialists and vegetarians like me. The king and queen have a jolly nice time while the animals and poor people get baked alive and facially disfigured.

Come to think of it, most nursery rhymes involve praising the rich and the royal, aspiring to be like them, or else being a poor person living in a crooked house with not even a penny to try a pie. It's a depressing read, and we're lucky we live in slightly more humane times. But in many ways the themes are still relevant, becoming even more relevant as the gap between rich and poor gets bigger.
Could life resemble the disparity and hopelessness of a nursery rhyme in Boo's generation? What can we do? Are these rhymes helpful? Maybe they were to the mothers who first sang them, so aware yet so powerless to the random unfairness, with a baby in their arms, it gives me the shivers.

I think for now I will keep trying to skip the most unsavoury rhymes, aware that they exist, but focussing on the happy ones. The owl and the pussy cat in love, the spider who won't give up, the wonder of the stars. 

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