The Ring Around the Rosie: Nursery Rhymes & Nightmares

  The ring 

Have you ever wondered why every child under the age of 10 is a sociopath? OK, age 20. Psychologists talk about the years kids spend consumed with themselves, the years spent acknowledging only their own needs. I’ve developed a theory about this after about two hours of moderate research. Here it is: consider what we’re putting in our kid’s heads? When we force them to turn off the television to protect them from stories like Sandy Hook, Zimmerman, and from crazy people like Adam Lanza and Antonin Scalia, what are we using to replace these disturbing images?

Here are a couple examples from my own experience.  Like every other kid ever, I frequently heard the singsong rhyme, “Jack and Jill.”  When Jack fell down and broke his crown, my brother told me, “You know, that means Jack died.”  What?  I couldn’t sleep that night.  Years later, driving home with my own kids one evening after picking them up from school, I heard my then three year old Carina crying. “Daddy,” she cried, “I don’t want to die and go to heaven.” Thank you, Catholic school.

Here’s some examples of the psychological torture we inflict on our little ones:

a)     And now I lay me down to sleep:

Dennis Miller pointed this out a lot funnier in a comedy bit years ago. I remember when I was a kid, I would clap my hands together, pointed at the sky, kneel by my bed, and say, “And now I lay me down to sleep/I pray the Lord my soul to keep…(gulp)…and if I die before I wake…Mom, can I stay up tonight?” In my mind, my parents were sending me to bed at 8 pm with the understanding that I may not be waking up the next morning. And you know what? They didn’t seem too concerned about it.

Again, thanks, Catholic school.  

fairy tales

b) Once Upon a Time:

The Grimm brothers, those aptly named siblings of the early 1800’s, published collections of folk tales which have become some of the most famous stories ever. Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood... these stories were famous over a century before Walt Disney made his first lemonade stand and charged $150.00 a glass. Sure, Disney cleaned them up a bit, but the stories still have some moments which are…troubling. Stepmothers trying to kill daughters. Witches trying to eat kids. A wolf eats a grandmother and prepares to ambush granddaughter. As bad as these plots sounds, here are some “clips” from the original tales:

     *     The stepsisters of Cinderella maimed themselves to fit into the glass slipper, causing blood to flow, and at the end of the story, their eyes were plucked out by birds to punish them for their greed and vanity;

     *     When the witch discovers Rapunzel’s relationship with the Prince, she hides Rapunzel and tries to kill the Prince.  The handsome Prince jumps from the tower to escape, but is blinded by thorns on his landing.  (Years later, he finds Rapunzel, raising their twins);

     *     Hansel and Gretel…well, that one was bad enough. The witch burns in the oven she was hoping to throw the little brother and sister in;

     *     The evil stepmother in Snow White is forced to dance in red hot shoes until she falls dead.

Why would anyone need therapy?.

c) Ring Around the Rosie:

ring around the movie

There is an interpretation of the “Ring Around the Rosie” song which, I admit, is controversial. gave it a false rating, although to my unscholarly ears, it still rings true. So, learned scientists and researchers, look away. “Ring Around the Rosie is about the Black Death. For those of you raised by wolves, the song goes like this:

     Ring around the rosie,
(the plague caused red circular rashes surrounding swollen lymph nodes, or alternatively, ring like rashes that form around the face)

     Pocket full of posie,
(Posies are flowers used to mask the scent of the disease);

     Ashes ashes
(I’ve heard this described as cremation of the plague-corpses or a derivation of the “achew” sneeze sound that heralds a symptom)

     We all fall down
(OK, this one’s obvious)

d) Disney Hates Moms

I have a friend, a mother of two boys, who bitterly insists that Disney hates Moms. Consider all the characters who lose Moms in Disney stories. Bambi…Nemo…Ariel…and think of all the virtuous people who become stepmoms.  (The word “stepmother” just doesn’t look right on the page without “evil” in front of it.) There are different theories why this pattern exists, but it certainly propels the protagonist into the worst possible conflict. Nothing could be worse than losing your mother. Of course, it’s a bit facile to suggest all this Momicide is just a plot device. What am I, Freud?


So tuck your kids in tonight, tell them a nice story about the two vain sisters who are disfigured and blinded, and remind them to pray at bedtime that they go to heaven if they die tonight. Sleep tight, little ones.

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About Robert Phillips

Robert Phillips is a Miami lawyer still deciding what he wants to do for a living. Once a lover of Pynchon, Pinter, and any other artist whose work he barely understood, he has since "come home" to genre fiction and fandom, where he truly belongs. He focuses most of his fan-attention on his wife Elena and his three little girls, who will one day be a female president, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and a supermodel/astrophysicist. (He's not sure which one will be which yet.)

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