Toddler talk Society

Nursery rhyme nightmares

Appeals to children. Photo: Special Arrangement  

When there’s a toddler in the house, your life becomes inextricably linked to nursery rhymes. You can’t escape them. Most toys play tinny versions of them. Cartoons and children’s shows ring with them. Your iPod is flooded with them. And your kid can’t get enough of them.

Naturally, your vocal chords are called into service. You sing them together on road trips (on loop). You sing them at bedtime. You sing them at mom-and-me classes. Once your kid starts going to playschool, she comes home humming the ones she’s learnt, and, of course, you end up humming along.

That is possibly the most frustrating thing about these dratted songs. Once they’re in your head, they’re stuck there for the foreseeable future. I don’t know if it’s the rhyme and rhythm or the nonsensical words, but it’s impossible to shake them loose. I spent a week humming ‘Miss Polly Had a Dolly Who Was Sick Sick Sick.’ Trust me, I was sick, sick, sick by the end too, but I just couldn’t stop. And they attack at the most random moments. I’ll be at a play or a dinner party and I’ll suddenly have ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It’ playing on loop in my head, and have the strongest urge to start singing it out loud. When my hands start twitching to go clap, clap, and feet start itching to go stamp, stamp, I know it’s time to give in to the earworm and go home (singing reluctantly all the way back in the car).

It doesn’t begin this way. At the start, you’re super excited about teaching your kid rhymes. You feel like you’re sharing a part of your own childhood with her. The first time your baby recites ‘Twinkle Twinkle,’ you feel like your heart will burst with pride. You take videos. You call and make her sing it on the phone for proud grandparents. All friends and visitors become captive audiences.

Then the excitement starts to wane a little bit. You start noticing just how much repetition there is in ‘Wheels on the Bus’ (“go round and round, round and round…”), and how the verses just seem to go on and on (does the gas really need to go “glug glug glug”?). You realise suddenly that ‘Twinkle Twinkle,’ ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ and ‘ABCD’ are all basically the same tune, and for some reason, that really, really starts bugging you. Rants about the ‘creative bankruptcy’ of nursery rhymes are common dinnertime conversation.

Out of sheer boredom, you start paying attention to the lyrics, and you’re horrified by what you hear. How is it okay to sing cheerfully about mutilating visually-challenged mice, for instance? Why isn’t PETA all over this? What about that dreadfully irresponsible old lady who, apparently, has had so many children she doesn’t know what to do with them, doesn’t feed them properly, and on top of it all, smacks them around? Not to mention cramming them all into a shoe. What is Wee Willie Winkie doing going around rapping on kids’ windows at night? And it’s just sadistic to sing a lullaby about a baby tumbling down ‘cradle and all’ from a tree. Seriously, why was it even on the tree-top in the first place? (Yes, I’ve given this a lot of thought. Don’t judge me. After the 300th time you hear a rhyme, analysis is the only path to sanity).

Adding insult to injury is Youtube. If you haven’t ever visited one of its bazillion or so nursery rhyme channels, well, good for you. You clearly don’t have a toddler in your life. On these channels, which my daughter visits with religious regularity, you find some of the most atrocious animation and instrumentation in the known universe. But that is a rant for another day.

For now, I’ve got to go. You see, “London bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down…”


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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 9:17:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/why-nursery-rhymes-lose-their-charm-very-early-in-motherhood/article6350049.ece

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