In editing this piece for Slackjaw,
Nursery Rhymes for an Equitable Nonpartisan Body Positive New Millennium
This tolerant person went to Mass, This tolerant person stayed home,
a few rhymes were left on the cutting room floor for the sake of brevity and levity. I’m happy with the final piece but I wanted to share the leftovers with commentary.
Fables and fairy tales often act as cautionary lessons, regardless of their sometimes demented outcomes. But many old-school nursery rhymes are straight-up weird. Why do we chant a non-rhyming refrain about hot cross buns? Why is “Ring Around the Rosie” a reference to symptoms of the plague? Why do we celebrate a farmer’s wife dismembering mice?
Anticipating rhyming words in a melody utilizes multiple parts of the brain and nursery rhymes are said to assist small children with speech development. Great! I think they could be even more beneficial if their contents made any degree of sense to the people singing them. Instead of investigating the cultural context and origins of nursery rhymes I never understood, I just used their cadences and melodies to write my own.
Here are three more.
In the traditional Jack and Jill rhyme, the pair simply travel up a hill together but are met with disastrous results. How could something so innocuous lead to such a tragic ending? What’s the takeaway here? “Kids, don’t you go fetching pails of water! I don’t care how thirsty you are! Didn’t you hear about Jack’s crown?!”
I wanted to flip that absurdity by imagining a trans or non-binary couple going outside together (which could unfortunately still be contentious in some communities today) where nothing noteworthy befalls them because in the future everyone accepts everyone else as they are. Corny, right?
It’s heartening to consider a future where we don’t have to qualify people with phrases like ‘plus size’ or ‘body-positive’ to refer to someone who should have already been comfortable being a totally normal size. I find that kind of verbiage subtly condescending because it highlights an unjustified norm.
The original Mother Goose rhyme is all about hygiene, reminding children to clean their teeth, hair, and faces. That’s all great advice, but at some point they’re going to grow up and realize there’s more to life than constant grooming.
The themes here comprise some hopes for future generations: affordable college, living wages from a single job, a comfortable work-life balance (stressing LIFE over WORK), and the drive to help those in your community who need it.
The entire Mother Goose song book should be modernized with positive vibes and thoughtful expectations for children. Luckily, the rhymes are largely in the public domain, so lift a melody and do whatever you want with it. The future depends on it!