Monday, 1 December 2014

Letter to a Granddaughter - When the Bough Breaks.....

Dear Small Granddaughter,
You are fascinated by Nursery Rhymes, partly because they can be sung, and you need to have almost everything sung at the moment  ("Sing a cat, Annie. Sing a door....... a car. Sing!") In working our way through the Nursery Rhyme book I realise anew what savage messages so many convey. When you're older we can talk about the political messages too, but for now the raw violence is enough.

This weekend you sat on my lap while we explored over and over (and over) again your choice of
Rock a bye baby in the tree-top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
Down will come baby, cradle and all, with its disconcerting illustration of baby and cradle plummeting to earth while the parents look up in mild surprise.

What sort of parents leave their baby up in a tree anyway? I'm sure your parents will help you climb trees, but they will never leave you stranded up there. And what will happen if the branch also falls on top of the baby, which seems likely? Well, the parents will go to the kind doctor to make the baby better.
You want it sung many, many times while you study the picture with great attention to detail. You open the large and beautiful book at this page every time. It's important, even for a two year old, to begin to understand. that strange things might happen; that people, even you, might be hurt. But with truly grannyish need to give comfort and reassurance I repeat many times that the Mummy and Daddy are there, even if they are standing watching in a rather gormless fashion. They will undoubtedly rush forward and catch the baby and give him a big cuddle. Then everyone will laugh and go home for dinner. The baby will laugh most of all. He loved it!

The gore and violence in Nursery Rhymes will disconcert you many more times. Humpty Dumpty is smashed to pieces falling off a wall, and no one, no power on earth can make him better. The Farmer's Wife, encountering three handicapped mice, takes up a big knife and cuts off their tails. Jack fractures his skull in fetching a pail of water. Little Miss Muffet suffers arachnophobia and  panic attacks. People are beaten for stealing, animals get lost and eaten.
It goes on. 

Bad things happen.and the very best way to explore them is while sitting on a warm lap in a safely familiar, lamp-lit room.
Many the perils always be manageable in this sort of safe and caring way, Little One,
With love from Grandma. (Annie).


Marigold Jam said...

How true! But as children did we ever really think of the dangers and horrid things in these rhymes or is it only now that we see them for what they are? Not only nursery rhymes either look at Grimm's fairy stories - indeed a warm comfortable lap is definitely the best place to hear them all and preferably not just before bed time!!

Relatively Retiring said...

Marigold; thank you for your comment. The fascination and concern comes entirely from Little E, who turns to this page every time she sees the book, She seeks reassurance that the baby is safe.
I remember my own small children being similarly disconcerted by 'Babes in the Wood'. The whole concept of looking at danger while being safe seems very important at this early stage.

Zhoen said...

I remember imagining the baby floating down, probably because the music is gentle. Exploring violence in stories... I dunno, perhaps it was not separate from dreams in a soft and fluid mind.

I do remember singing, long involved songs, after put in bed. They seemed so important. Your little one is fortunate to have someone to sing with.

Elephant's Child said...

A warm and loving lap is such a sanctuary.
And I often feel its lack.
You are right about the violence of nursery rhymes (and fairy stories) too.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: a reassuring image that the baby floats down, rather than crash-lands. Singing seems to make harsh things a lot more gentle.

E.C: that's a sad comment. I hope you have a large, soft, lap-like armchair.

pohanginapete said...

Seems we've sometimes been getting the bowdlerised versions, too. A recently published translation of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales reveals just how much has been cut since the first edition. They're not for the faint of heart.

Relatively Retiring said...

P.Pete: thank you for the reference to this most interesting article. The Brothers Grimm's sanitisation of traditional tales has, of course, been followed by Walt Disney and despite the abomination of singing squirrels, the stories and their fascination with dark deeds in the forests remain an integral part of childhood. Why do we worry about violent computer games when we can read 'Snow White'?
I'm sure you know how many Nursery Rhymes have their origins in political satire, yet remain appealing to small children - perhaps because of the singing?
Little E is making me think a lot!

Isabelle said...

When my children were little, I had to change/add bits. The last (extra) line of Bye Baby Bunting was (But Daddy will catch it.). The three blind mice ran after the farmer's wife who - gave them some cheese which she cut with a knife.


Frances said...

These letters you write to little E are so beautiful, Relatively retiring. What a treasure you are giving her.

Relatively Retiring said...

Isabelle: those are clever adaptations. I hope your little ones appreciated them.

Frances: thank you for such a kind comment. I hope that someone will draw her attention to them when she's older, as this is why I write them.

Jenny Woolf said...

I think your granddaughter might be wondering in the same way that I did why this story had an unhappy ending. Most of the things told to small children end very happily. This didn't. I puzzled over it for a long time before finally the information took its place in my mind - Bad Things Happen.
As you say, much nicer to learn it in a cosy and loving environment.
Your granddaughter's Christmas will be so exciting - two is the first age at which they realise something special is happening! I hope you have a lovely Christmas.

Relatively Retiring said...

Jenny: Granddaughter is talking all the time now and says (quite frequently), "I don't like snowmen, I don't like Father Christmas. I like Postman Pat." A wise choice, when you think of snowmen flying through the air and old men climbing down your chimney. Bad and unexpected things can happen!