Deeply buried in many adults psyches (except, perhaps, new parents) are Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Just like riding a bike, you never forget. Once you start reciting a nursery rhyme, it all comes flooding back. You may not remember your latest password to your online bank account, but you’ll remember that Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, that Jack fell down and broke his crown, and that the dish ran away with the spoon. Mother Goose is a child’s induction into the world of poetry.
Reading aloud Mother Goose rhymes is a rite of passage for parents. These rhymes will be the first poems a baby hears. We teach our babies language and song through the musicality and rhythm of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Hickory-Dickory-Dock,” and “Three Blind Mice.” The melodies of these nursery rhymes will live on in baby mobiles (the original rotating, crib “mobile” meant to entertain an infant—not the cellular phone variety), musical toys and toddler sing-a-longs.
Nursery rhymes may be simplistic, but they conjure up vivid imagery, as many good poetry does. Like a baby cradle precariously straddling a tree top in “Rock-A-Bye Baby,” or a wife in a pumpkin shell in “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater.” Or four-and-twenty-blackbirds baked in pie that sing for royalty (honestly, “Sing A Song of Sixpence” is one of my least favorite nursery rhymes for this creepy visual alone). If I cut into a pie and a flock of birds started chirping, I’d react more like Miss Muffet when a spider sat down beside her and go screaming into oblivion.
Until there is a new wave of catchy nursery rhymes, Mother Goose won’t be affected by Father Time. These rhymes will be put away when baby grows up, and then dusted off and revisited when the next generation arrives. I’ll be rocking my grandchildren to sleep reciting “Little Bo Peep,” “Old Mother Hubbard,” and other nursery rhymes recalled from my memory.
Last week when I was spring cleaning, I found two Mother Goose books from my daughters’ toddler days buried deep in a basket of out-dated magazines. I was tempted to donate the books, thinking that my kids were too mature for old Mother Goose, but my 7-year-old’s excited reaction when I unearthed them made me change my mind. She was genuinely pleased to flip through the pages and read her favorite rhymes. And I knew with each review of these classic poems, she was subconsciously committing them to memory. To my delight, she didn’t outgrow Mother Goose at all.