Our family gathered in Champaign yesterday morning to throw a baby shower for my daughter Alison and her husband Nelson, expecting their first child the end of next month. Back when my kids were born, guys weren't included in baby showers. But times have changed, and my daughters told me I HAD to go to this one, and so, at long last I now know what the women have been doing all these years behind my back: eating food, opening gifts, and giving each other quizzes.
The first quiz yesterday tested whether or not we knew the proper names of "baby" animals. I failed to identify 6 of 25. My school-teacher mother was sitting across the table from me, and I reckoned she was silently giving me a D plus.
I did not know, for example, that a baby fox is called a "kit." I also did not know that a baby fish is called a "fry." Maybe women sit around and talk about these things, but when men talk about fish, we only talk about the humongous ones that got away and we don't waste our time oohing and aahing about the small fry.
But I was inspired enough by this game that when I got home, I got on the internet, and looked up, "baby names of animals." So, here is a quiz for you, my gentle readers: What do you call a baby armadillo, a baby bat, a baby hedgehog, a baby mouse, a baby shark, a baby squirrel, and a baby walrus? (Answers at the bottom of the page)
The second game we played was to see if we could complete different nursery rhymes. I
was one of the few in the room who knew that the grand old Duke of York marched ten thousand men up a hill, right before he marched them all back down again. But the poem never tells us why the old geezer seemed to be going in circles with his army. If he were to do such a foolish thing today, I would suspect that his GPS had given him the wrong directions.
But while I was the resident expert on the grand old Duke of York, I got the Georgie Porgie question wrong because I couldn't remember what he did to make the girls cry. All I could fathom was that he must have pulled their pigtails. But it turns out that Georgie Porgie was a lecher, one of the original "hashtag, me too" perps.
After the baby shower, I was supposed to come home and work on my sermon. But I was so worked up about nursery rhymes, that I wasted my sermon prep time perusing the internet, indulging myself in long lost memories.
Did you know that there have been numerous efforts to rewrite nursery rhymes throughout history? Consequently, there isn't just a singular version of those verbal and visceral delights. A few years before I was born,
Geoffrey Handley-Taylor analyzed a popular book of nursery rhymes and calculated that eight were about murder, two involved choking to death, one fancied a person being sliced in half, one guy gets eaten, 15 souls get maimed by animals...and so on. I suppose he did make a compelling case for nursery rhyme reform.
In the same way, we have had to tone down some of the fairy tales we tell our children these days. In an older version of Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf races to the grandmother's house and arrives before the innocent girl does. He then kills the grandmother, strips the flesh off her bones, and put "the meat" in the ice box. When Little Red Riding Hood arrives, the wolf invites her to have a "pulled meat" sandwich...which Little Red Riding Hood does. He then makes her get into bed naked with him. But due to the indigestion she incurs after unwittingly eating her grandmother, she has to run outside to "do her business." It is at this moment that she escapes the wolf and runs home. Does anyone object to this revision for today's children?
While I don't mind some nursery rhyme reform, an argument can be made that some changes too too far. Consider
"There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe." Since the time before my grandmother was born, the rhyme went as follows: "
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, then spanked them all soundly and put them to bed.
But a few years before my daughters were born,
The Christian Mother Goose
was published. The author gave the old woman religion, and the ditty turned out like this: "
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had many children and loved them all too. She said, 'thank you Lord Jesus for sending them bread,' then kissed them all gladly and sent them to bed."
This, of course, was written in a time right before the rise of the Christian right. It was a nostalgic time, when Christians could be clueless without being so mean.
I'm just waiting for today's religious right these days to revise the 1970s Christian Mother Goose revisions. Christians on the religious right need to put some vinegar back in that nursery rhyme, to reflect how fed up they have become with the poor, with those single mothers who have too many children, and with those foreigners who'll live in anything. But there is good news for the religious right: they won't need to write anything new. They can just re-introduce the older old woman in a shoe, the one from the 1700s: "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, and whipped all their bums and sent them to bed." Sounds just like something you'd hear at a presidential rally these days!
My favorite nursery rhyme to tell my daughters was Old King Cole. "Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he. He called for his pipe and he called for his bowl, and he called for his fiddlers three. And every fiddler he had a fine fiddle and a very fine fiddle had he. 'Twee tweedle dee tweedle dee' went the fiddlers. Oh, there's none so rare as can compare to Old King Cole and his fiddlers three."
I used to have great fun reciting that ditty to my daughters. But it wasn't until my daughters were already grown up and unintentionally corrupted by me that I discovered G.F. Hill's essay informing us that Old King Cole was obese, addicted to tobacco, a drunkard, and lacked self-control. It turns out I should have been sheltering my daughters better.
Arg! These confounded reforms! This is why I can't remember my nursery rhymes: we keep changing the words to serve our delicate sensibilities. And when they keep changing the words on me, I can't memorize anything! It is like the many revisions of the Bible. Back when we only had the King James Bible, we might not have understood anything in it, but we sure could memorize it and spout it off in public. Too much reform messes with the ditties in my brain.
So, while it may be too late for me to tell my daughters kinder and gentler nursery rhymes, and while my ditties are in some disarray due to historical progress, I keep working at it for the sake of my grandchildren. And I'll sure be better studied up for the next baby shower I get invited to.
(The baby offspring of all the animals I listed are all called "pups")