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Scary tales

No wonder they called her “Mother Goose.” Some of her nursery rhymes are enough to goose any child out of a year’s growth…or teach kids the wrong lesson. Take “Jack be nimble.” Is this what we want to model to our kids—what fun it is to jump over a candlestick? This nursery rhyme should come with the standard warning, “Don’t try this at home.”

I think that the old woman who lived in the shoe was an early Right-to-Lifer. “She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.” Uhhh…she knew what to do. It was just against her principles.

Now, what about Humpty Dumpty. He sat on a wall and had a great fall? What’s so great about falling? (Falling in love doesn’t count.) Was Mother Goose trying to encourage kids to try falling off things for great fun? (Although, unless you’re a fly, how do you sit on a wall??)

Then there’s Tom, Tom, the piper’s son, who “stole a pig and away he run.” What is this nursery rhyme teaching our kids? That they can have more than just their 15 minutes of fame by committing theft? “Hey, kids—steal something and you, too, can be famous and get your name into a book!”

This famous young thief, Tom, was “the piper’s son,” but what exactly is a piper? The plumber’s helper who works under the sink and stops the leak? Or maybe it’s just someone who smokes a Meerschaum? Whatever he is, he appears also, along with nine of his compatriots, in the Christmas ditty about the partridge in the pear tree.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, has a garden with “pretty maids all in a row.” Why are the domestic help standing in a row in the garden? I don’t care how beautiful they are—they shouldn’t be standing in Mary’s garden rehearsing for the Miss America contest. They should be inside doing their job, cleaning the house. If they’re going to stand around the yard all day, no wonder Mary’s folks need a plural number of maids to keep their house clean.

And why are we teaching the kids such non-PC language? I distinctly recall in the seventies that “maid” was out and “housecleaner” was in. Or is it all right to say “maid” again now? I can’t keep up with these changing rules!

“Jack and Jill” isn’t un-PC at all—in fact, it’s very democratic. Jack was obviously a prince…remember he broke his crown?…and yet he was fetching his own water. Laudable. Or maybe it’s just that he couldn’t get his maids to do it because they were part of the group who were standing around in Mary Mary’s garden. (Hmmm, just what was going on in that garden anyhow?)

“Three Blind Mice” is only a little bit gruesome, but the information it gives is incomplete. It tells us the farmer’s wife “cut off their tails with a carving knife” but fails to provide the recipe she used thereafter. That may answer the question, though, of what was in the bowl that Old King Cole called for. (A true aside: When I was a kid, I assumed the bowl held Jell-o, probably because of the famous line about Santa, “It shook when he laughed like a bowl full of Jell-o.”)

“Little Jack Horner” teaches bad manners. I mean, this kid is eating a pie and sticks his thumb into it? Does that show any consideration for the other people who might want a piece? Or might have wanted a piece before this clod stuck his dirty finger into it. (Do you know where Jack’s thumb was before he stuck it in the pie? Probably up his nose!)

Nursery rhymes should be known as “scary tales.” If your child gets nervous every time you drive her across the bridge, maybe it’s because she’s afraid it will suffer the same fate as London Bridge. She doesn’t want to be on it when it’s falling down! And talk about scary…”Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire, your children will burn”! Now, that’s a reassuring rhyme at tuck-in time!

And we’re worried about what television is doing to the kids?!


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