Posted in Blog, Mother, Shawna

Heigh-ho the dairy-o!

My baby girl is in for a major letdown when she sees what caterpillars really look like. Her books and plush stuffed animals have set her up to expect caterpillars to be oversized, cuddly and multicolored.

They have inexplicably set her up to love caterpillars, just like board books and toddler toys teach babies to adore mice, ants, raccoons and all of the other creatures that, in our society, only pest control workers really love.

Why do we prepare our babies for a world that is so different from the one we expect them to inhabit? Some of our tall tales for wee ones make sense, like those that are set in Neverland or the land of Oz. We sing about fairies and warn about giants as a matter of course, partially in homage to the land of once upon a time and the Brothers Grimm, but also as a convenient way to impart life lessons, as a way to express our hopes and dreams for them.

I get all of that, but it’s the random white lies that interest me. The obsession with farmers is fascinating. Yes, I know, songs like “The Farmer in the Dell” and “Old MacDonald’s Farm” are from another (beloved) era and speak to our agrarian roots. But why are we still singing them when so many other ditties from the olden days have been retired? (And in the case of Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, I couldn’t be more thrilled. What a creepy song!) Why are we presenting a way of life that they’re no more likely to encounter than an oversized, multicolored caterpillar noshing on cupcakes and hotdogs?

The choice must be deliberate, however sleep-deprived we may be. We sing to children about the farmer caring for his animals, the trains coming down the mountainside, and seeds coming out of the soil because those simpler days hold obvious appeal for us and for our children.

It’s a way of life that’s easy to explain to kids, compared with the way most of us spend our days. We don’t sing to children about traffic, or cell phones or briefcases or insurance claims or emails. And you know what? I don’t think we ever will.  I think my great-grandchildren are more likely to hear songs about Mary’s Little Lamb than about  Mary’s Little iTouch.

I’m still not sure about the cuddly caterpillars though. I can’t quite figure out what we’re trying to foster there, except maybe some sweet royalties for Eric Carle. I guess we will just have to chalk the prevalence of that one up to parental lunacy. Meanwhile, I’ll prepare for a rough night when the neighbor has her tent caterpillars exterminated.

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  1. Haha, I’ve totally wondered this same thing. I point to the cat in the books, and the cat in the house, and was like “Huh- those two things totally don’t match up.” And when on earth is she going to see Old McDonald’s cow? Or need to know that a sheep says “baa”? I still love teaching her those things (in part because I’m a midwesterner, and I figure it’s my heritage to pass down a bit of agrarian-ness…), but it totally does make me wonder. Or the play phones with cords? Hah!

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