‘One for the master, one for the dame, and one for the little boy who lives down the lane.’ It’s amazing how it always comes back to me. I’ve been singing nursery songs on and off for over four decades. The first time around it was to my own children. From there I graduated to singing the songs to my grandchildren. The memory must be hardwired into our DNA because when the time comes to pass it on each generation has the lyrics word perfect, to pass on to the next one.
My 18 month old grandson, J, requested a rendition of Ba Ba Black Sheep this morning. He waited an instant for me to warble out the last word and then, like Oliver, asked for more. His communication skills are impressive. With only a handful of words and a lot of gestures, J never fails to make his wishes known. His parents phone me and J chooses the right repertoire for the occasion. ‘Nanna, ba’ or ‘Nanna, tar (star).’ The Wiggles are the ‘giggles’ and his cousin Dezzy is ‘Deddy’. J’s vocabulary is developing in leaps and bounds. He wants his nanna to sing and his nanna obliges. Thankfully for those affected by the constant repetitions, I am at least capable of singing in tune.
Having experienced it five times before, I know that it’s just a passing phase and don’t let the adulation go to my head. I intend to keep on singing until J tells me to stop. It’s the last time; J is likely to be the last grandchild. And if I persist, I know that J will preface his request with an ‘oh, nanna’ in a tone that will leave no room for negotiation or doubt that the party is well and truly over.
Why children love the nursery rhymes then suddenly don’t is a mystery. My theory is that if a child has been listening to the same songs non-stop for four years he will finally tire of them. And of course by that time he has had the chance to expand his musical horizons. Or hers, for that matter. My teenage granddaughter gently chided her father for listening to Country and Western. She forgets that she and her dad once danced to Diana Krall around the kitchen floor and that he has introduced her to songs and singers that have expanded her and rounded out her range. Perhaps Dezzy will come around one day when she finds herself singing Mary, Mary Quite Contrary to her own children.
It’s us adults who get a kick out of introducing nursery songs to our children. That’s what it is. We get to relive our own youth and to enjoy the sweet innocence that was a part of it. It was a time before the real world closed in on us. We look at the love and trust in their eyes and croon the gentle songs to our little ones hoping that we can extend the fantasy for both of us a bit longer.