The Age of Insolence & Politically Correct Nursery Rhymes

The stair and attic lights were on when I went upstairs.  I whispered goodnight to my daughter, then reminded her she left the lights on.

“David and Laura left them on,” she said.

I walked to David’s room and told him to turn off the lights. “Why me?” he said. “I didn’t leave them on.”

David didn’t move. We bantered back and forth over who was in the attic, when they were there, why they were there, when they left, and in what sequence.  I studied the ceiling to gather my wits, not wanting to waste more words on a thirty second task.

“When I tell you to do something,” I said, “you do it.  Whether that means to lock the doors, clean up a mess, turn off the attic lights or every light in the whole house.

“Say your prayers tonight.  Ask for forgiveness for refusing to do what your mother asked, a simple task. When you wake tomorrow, you will behave like a good boy.”

During this lecture, Laura turned off the attic lights. When I left, I noticed the hall closet light on and returned to his room.

“Go turn off the closet light.”

He threw back his covers and walked down the hall to turn off the closet light.  I saw tears glisten on his cheeks in the faint glow. Wanting the comfort of his bed, I watched him pass, an amorphous dark being, escaping a tyrant. Me.

I had the urge to thank him but I didn’t. Thank him!?!  What has the world come to?  Why should we thank our children for doing what they are supposed to do, what they should do, what WE have done for them oh-too-long?

What a sad state we’ve gotten ourselves into.

 

Old woman who lived in a shoe, notice her switch

 

Which reminds me of the little old lady who lived in a shoe, a rhyme which has taken on new meaning as a parent, a rhyme which has “evolved” with the political correctness of the times. The “whipp’d bums” of yesterday become “kissed” cheeks of today.  Here it is in its early and modern versions.

One of the earliest versions:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do;

She gave them some broth without any bread;

She whipp’d all their bums, and sent them to bed. 

*Source: Joseph Ritson, Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1794)

The most common version:

 

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do;

So she gave them some broth without any bread;

And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

 A kinder gentler version evolved similar to Marjorie Decker’s Christian Mother Goose Collection printed in 1978. I have seen this in contemporary collections.

There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children
She didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth
And a big slice of bread,
Kissed them all soundly
And sent them to bed.

* Mother Goose Club version, LINK

A more recent version changes the rhyme altogether.

There was an old lady who lived in a shoe,
which wasn’t too bad when the winter winds blew.
But the strong summer sun was too hot to handle,
so she packed up her stuff and moved to a sandal.

* Larry Cohen and Steve Zweig, Mother Goose Makeover by Bruce Lansky LINK

Remember this one?

Georgie Porgie, Puddin’ and Pie,

Kissed the girls and made them cry,

When the boys came out to play

Georgie Porgie ran away.

Today’s makeover again changes the story, but comforts mothers.

Georgie Porgie, handsome guy,
Won’t kiss the girls, and so they cry.
It breaks their hearts—he loves another.
He’s only five; he loves his mother.

* Bruce Lansky

 Writers and experts have analyzed fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and children’s stories in voluminous detail.  Anthropologist David Lancy argues the old woman is a message about “unchecked fertility” and makes a case for “quality over quantity” when having children (link)!  Albert Jack says that the rhyme was about King George II who had eight children with Queen Caroline and was referred to as the “old woman” because his wife had all the power (Secret Meaning of Nursery Rhymes LINK ).

These are interesting but I always think of the old woman and how my own children are insolent more often than I’d like, not just at night. And I consider the phrase “whipped then all soundly” and whether the politically correct version “kissed them all soundly” is better.

Is it?

 

Life with children

 

I see a mother in the restaurant, pleading with her child to sit, behave, be quiet; and another woman’s son at a service running up and down the aisle, hanging off the pew; a frustrated lady at the store beseeching her toddler to stop screaming then threatening this and threatening that and finally bartering. Teachers have these same issues in class and parents suggest the teacher is the problem, ask for class changes, or complain to the administration.

Meanwhile writers “clean up” the stories, the rhymes, and tell politically acceptable drivel meant to shield children.

But kids are smart.

They see.  They have better access to the world than we did.

Folk tales, legends, and fairy tales change with the times and that is their nature. Sheltering children from truths, scary endings, evil doing, cruelty and violence is contrary to their very aim.  Grimm said even the cruelest tales had value, didactic in nature, they provide a moral for readers, adult and child alike. Besides, the lurid dark parts are often the most exciting.

Whipping children, getting eaten by a witch or wolf, and dying from the cold are common fodder for these stories.  (Woman who lived in a shoe, Hansel & Gretel, Red Riding Hood, Little Match Girl).

********

The next morning David came downstairs and walked over to me.  He hugged me and put his head against my chest.

“I’m sorry I didn’t do what you asked last night.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About mylinhshattan

I’m a writer who has worked in the private sector, taught at college, and served in the U.S. Army. I hold a B.S. in Mathematics from West Point, an M.B.A. from Florida Southern College, and an M.F.A. in Writing from Queens University.