Suffer the Children

Slap her down again, pa

Slap her down again

Make her tell us more, pa

Tell us where she’s been

We don’t want our neighbors

Talkin’ ’bout our kin

Slap her down again, pa

Slap her down again

       as covered by Arthur Godfrey in a 1947 recording

The above mid-century snippet certainly demonstrates that times have changed.  It’s hard to imagine anyone outside a Montana militia camp or Pentecostal rattlesnake farm who would adhere to the childrearing principles practiced by the vengeful patriarch of the song (spurred on, it would seem, by a brother who suffers a case of sibling rivalry that makes Edmund’s hatred of Edgar in Lear seem like mere disgruntlement).  The song also projects a Taliban-like sexism in its relegation of females into the realm of property.  

Of course, the lyrics are meant to be humorous, but it’s hard to imagine their not offending a large number of North American citizens of both sexes.  

The word sadistic comes to mind.

another Arthur Godfrey knee-slapper

No, we middle class denizens of the Late Empire no longer treat our children as property, nor beat them with belts nor switch them with switches, which is all to the good. However, elevating them to the status of major deity might not be such a hot idea either. If judging from some of the Facebook posts of the current generation of DNA replicators and actual 3-D encounters with their offspring, a number of millennial parents seem to be transforming childrearing into some sort of strange counter-intuitive fetish in which the power of household management is ceded to tiny monomaniacs whose accumulated world wisdom would not fill one dimple of a thimble.

Idolatry!

Father to 5-year-old-daughter:  Anastasia, tell Mr. Wesley where you went today.

Anastasia:  [sullen silence, no eye contact]

Mr. Wesley:  Yeah, Helen.  I’m just dying to know where you went today.

Father [frowning]:  Helen?

Mr. Wesley:  Yeah, as in Helen Keller.  

Anastasia  [frowning]:  Why did he call me Helen, Daddy?

Father: [squatting to accomplish eye-level conversation].  Because you didn’t answer Mr. Wesley, honey, so he was pretending that you were Helen Keller, a very accomplished person.   Helen Keller was a famous girl, who well, had some obstacles to overcome.  She couldn’t hear, so she didn’t know how to talk, but a wonderful woman named Anne Sullivan worked with Helen and taught her how not only to talk, but to write, and Helen Keller became a world-renowned writer –

Mr. Wesley: And she lived happily ever after even though she was blind as well.

Anastasia [tugging at parent]: 

Father:  Um, nice seeing you, Wesley.  Say goodbye to Mr. Wesley.

Anastasia:  [sullen silence, no eye contact]  

My late wife Just Birdsong inherited a book from her mother Emily entitled Our Darlings’ ABCs, which sort of blew my very-difficult-to-blow mind.

A pretty book of A B C’s

The tiny folk is sure to please;

So here it is in colors bright,

With every letter placed in right,

And more than this, a rhyme as well

That will some Bible story tell,

To help the children learn with ease

The puzzling list of A B C’s.

Sounds innocuous enough, right?  Well, it doesn’t take us long – the B’s in fact – to discover that childrearers around the turn of the previous century (the book appeared 40 years before Godrey’s recording of “Slap Her Down Again”) were a bit more brutal back in the day.  Here are the facing pages for B.

As one who like Elisha has “no hair on the top of his head,”  I find the children’s taunt of  “Go up, thou bald head” hurtful in the extreme and agree with the author’s observation “How unkind to speak of his head in that way.”  Certainly,  Elisha’s wish to punish the children is understandable, and God knows, they certainly will never commit that unkindness again because “God heard and sent two large bears out of the woods.  The bears were very fierce, and they soon tore forty-two of the children in pieces.”

Nighty night.  Sweet dreams, sugarplum.

That’ll teach them to mock their elders

As I was perusing the alphabet and  encountering Bible stories with which I was not familiar (e.g., how Moses told his people “to hasten away from Korah’s home” before “the ground opened up and swallowed Korah”). I couldn’t help but think of the ABC book I have written and how it reflects the kinder, gentler world of 2012.  

Or [have you ever] barbered* a barbarian?*


*You can read the entire primer here and my complete guide to childrearing here

We both use the same method, alliteration and assonance – “bad bald back” and “barbered barbarian” and offer illustrations to complement our lessons, though my primer is a tad bit less didactic.

As in most cases, the Middle Way is better – too much rod = brutish child and too much parental kowtowing = loutish child.  

Anyway, I doubt if many millennials are reading goodnight stories from the O.T.

Well, enough. Good night, and may God bless!

Korah, his family and all they own fall into a bottomless grave.

4 thoughts on “Suffer the Children

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