Until recently, I had never put much serious thought into lullabies, nursery rhymes or other children’s folk tales. If you’d asked my opinion of them, I’d say they were all sweet, innocent tales meant to stimulate and delight the imagination of a child. But this week, it occurred to me that they are nothing of the sort. They’re frequently morbid and not the kind of thing I want to be putting into my child’s mind, even subconsciously.
Take the classic lullaby, ”Rock-A-Bye Baby.” The tune is sweet, soothing and peaceful. The lyrics, not so much. At night, I sing Jacob to sleep with whatever song comes into my head. Last week, I began singing “Rock-A-Bye Baby” to him, but it didn’t take long for the lyrics to sink in:
Rock a bye baby on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
A baby tumbling to his death from the top of a tree isn’t exactly the stuff sweet dreams are made of. Fortunately, Jacob had no idea what I was singing to him and promptly drifted off to sleep. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to boycott the lyrics, and now just add my own cheerful words to the tune.
“Rock-A-Bye Baby” isn’t the only offender. A quick Google search returned a laundry list of tragic kid’s songs and nursery rhymes. Think: Jack and Jill; Ring Around the Rosie; Ladybug, Ladybug Fly Away Home; and Oh, My Darling Clementine (the worst offender in my book.) Children falling down and breaking their heads, everyone dying from Bubonic Plague, Ladybugs dying in fires, someone’s lover drowning and then being used for fertilizer—not the kind of stuff you want to fill your infant’s brain with.
While I know that Jacob doesn’t have any idea what’s being said to him as we sing songs and read books, he’ll catch on eventually, and I’d like to be ready when he does. Though I’m no expert, it seems that guarding your child’s mind is largely a matter of habit. If I let little things slip now while he’s still too young to understand, it’s more likely that I’ll do the same when he can process the meaning of things.
This is a lot easier said than done. During a fight or two with Tom, I’ve let things slip in front of Jacob that I am thankful he won’t remember. Will we disagree with each other in front of Jacob when he’s older? I’m sure, but we need to practice doing it as respectfully as possible now while he can’t understand what’s going on so that it becomes a habit later. (This is for his sake, as well as ours!)
Tom and I have decided that the “prepare for later, now” theme goes for other things, too. And it takes self-discipline and sacrifice. Take our movie watching, for example. Though we won’t watch anything R-rated, PG-13 movies do make it onto our television on a regular basis. The subject matter and language in most of the movies isn’t something that I want Jacob exposed to while growing up. (Or, honestly, because I’m his mother, ever.) Because of this, Tom and I have talked about investing in a Clear Play—a handy little machine that blocks out curse words and the like from whatever movie you’re watching. They’re pricey, but protecting Jacob’s eyes and ears is something that is a priority to us.
Though he’s still too young to verbalize, Jacob’s little mind is like a sponge. Whatever is going in over the next year—no, make that the next 18 years—will determine the kind of person he will become. It’s our duty to make sure there are mostly good things going in and to explain about the bad stuff when it inevitably comes his way. For now, that means doing simple things like boycotting “Rock-A-Bye Baby” and select nursery rhymes. Later on, it will mean much more. Fortunately by then we should have plenty of practice.