Gory stories and ear worms


The Dad Diary
Edwin McGreal

There are many ways you know your life has changed and you’re now a parent. Early starts, dirty nappies and, for better or worse, much less freedom than you had before the kids came along.
But when you’re pottering around the kitchen at night time, the two kids sleeping peacefully (you hope) in their beds, and you realise that, unbeknownst to yourself, you’ve been singing or humming a nursery rhyme or baby song, you know things are bad.
Some of them are ear worms, so annoyingly catchy that they just won’t leave your head. I’m sure playing them on a loop in a prison cell is a method of torture that has been used to get confessions out of the most unbreakable of suspects.
One that was in our heads for months was ‘Baby Shark’. It was also one of Frankie’s favourites and, as a result, a go-to song in times of emergency. The art of distraction being crucial, of course, to avert a mini meltdown.
Next thing we know it becomes a dance music classic – and there’s no escaping it. Eventually, we all got sick of it, even Frankie.
But whatever about the catchy tunes, you have to wonder who wrote some of these rhymes. Many have medieval origins.
‘Rock-a-bye Baby’ tells about a baby falling from a treetop. If the poor child knew what the song meant, they wouldn’t sleep for a week.
‘Ring a Ring a Roses’ is actually about the bubonic plague – ‘We all fall down’ refers to falling down and dying. How charming.  
‘Humpty Dumpty’, another favourite in our house, is said to refer to drinking a type of brandy that leads to ‘a great fall’. As someone who cannot stomach brandy at all, I’m not surprised all the king’s horses and men couldn’t put Humpty together again, but hopefully it will be a long time before Frankie even knows what brandy is.
The poor Three Blind Mice had their tails cut off by a masochistic farmer’s wife, while poor auld Jack of ‘Jack and Jill’ fame broke his crown – his skull – when falling down the hill. Just the type of thing you want your two year old to recite.
We’re not sure the writer of ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ will make any cookery shows with ‘four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie’. Most amazingly, the song says the blackbirds survived the baking process. They exacted revenge for their torment by pecking off the maid’s nose. Lovely.
And heaven help anyone nowadays who would write the lyrics for ‘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 them all soundly and put them to bed.’
You’ll be relieved to know that’s not a method we’ve had to resort to yet with Frankie or Éamon. Though merely singing it might count as cruelty.
I’m curious at what stage kids start to question lyrics like these. For now, Frankie loves them and tries to sing along, and we can’t but laugh. And then cry when we find ourselves singing them on our own.

In his fortnightly column, Edwin McGreal charts the ups and downs of the biggest wake-up call of his life: parenthood.