Oh how sweet and simple. Such a delight. Baby Girl and I ventured to Bounce and Rhyme at our local library for the first time two weeks ago. I have to think really carefully before I open my mouth when I say ‘Bounce and Rhyme’ because for some reason my naughty brain insists on calling it ‘Bump and Grind’, which is something altogether different.
So there, in the children’s section of the library, on the alphabet carpet and next to the fire engine book box sat mums and tots ready for the arrival of Karyl and her bag of bells.
Karyl is an amazing older lady who has a fantastic knack of remembering all the babies’ names. She’s a librarian like any other during the week but for half an hour on a Monday afternoon she’s the lovely lady with the songs, the smiles and the magical bag of jingles.
I was actually quite nervous at first. How on earth was I going to know all the words to the songs? Was I going to feel stupid and awkward? But I needn’t have worried. It was a very laid back affair and the other mums sang with unexpected gusto so my blank spots were easily covered.
I’d not sung nursery rhymes for years, not since my own childhood. But wow, did the memories and the lyrics come flooding back! The Wheels on the Bus, Hickory Dickory Dock, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The tumbled from the tip of my tongue as if they’d been waiting there to leap out for the past 30 years, finally free again.
As we sang I got to thinking how bonkers and positively baffling some of these songs actually are. They raise so many questions, the majority of which Wikipedia makes only a half-hearted stab at answering with most explanations touching on ancient political scandals. My questions have included: why is Humpty Dumpty depicted as an egg when there’s no actual reference to him being one in the song? What is a hickory, a dickory or a dock for that matter? Why on earth do we sing to our children about a violent goose who flings people down the stairs for not saying their prayers? And who was Wee Willy Winky and would you really want him knocking at your child’s bedroom window to check if they’re in their bed?
The questions get even more bizarre when comparing my husband’s French versions of songs to the English ones. For example, why, when it is clearly Old MacDonald who has a farm, does John the Baptist happen to have one in France when most people will agree that ol’ JtB was probably a vegetarian and was highly unlikely to have farmed cows and chickens not to mention the cloven-hoofed pig?
And then there were a few Scottish songs that baffled me that day – something about Coulter’s Candy plumping up a thin girl who’s described as a bag of bones? It was a new one to me and I wasn’t too sure whether post-millennial children should be being encouraged to scoff sugary treats to ‘get a double chin’ but, hey, the tune was catchy.
And herein lies the magic: Baby Girl absolutely loved the action songs and her gorgeous newly-found baby chuckle burst out of her little lungs on a number of occasions making my heart soar. We could have been singing about the ins and outs of the stock exchange for all she cared but so long as there were actions and great melodies she would have been happy. And after 30 short, sweet minutes our time was nearly over and it was time to sing the Goodbye Song. This song involves going around the circle and singing each child’s name as the previous child invites them out to play. I could see now why Karyl was so good at remembering everyone’s names. I was concentrating so hard on getting the other children’s names right as the song’s focus slowly progressed around the circle towards us that a lapse in concentration saw me tripping over my words and choking back some tears.
It wasn’t the beauty of the song or the daintiness of the bells. It was something that creeps up on me now and again. As we’d been singing and jingling, the library’s fancy flat screen TV behind Karyl had been displaying BBC News 24. As the child before us was about to ‘ask us out to play’ at the end of this simple pleasure of Bounce and Rhyme, I glanced up and saw the heartbreaking image of a Syrian mother cradling her deceased child, swaddled in white grave clothes in amongst a row of other lost sons and daughters.
My voice cracked, I lost my flow and I was struck to the core. Instead of seeing a far-removed news image of suffering, framed in BBC red… I saw the grief. I felt the stab. The tears came from deep down. Nobody ever tells you that this motherhood thing comes with such a fizzing bag of emotion. It brings an awful (in the old sense of the word as well as the new) connection to other people’s children, mothers, their suffering, their grief; such a raw empathy that threatens to consume you if you let it. I’ve a feeling this doesn’t go away so it’s something I want to use and channel rather than quell, if only I knew how to harness it and help.
And there on the alphabet carpet next to the fire engine book box I squeezed Baby Girl a little closer and thanked God for my simple, protected life full of little pleasures like Karyl, her amazing memory, her bag of bells and the joy of a few silly songs that no-one could remember the meanings of.
Later on, when we were home, I stumbled upon a wee Glasgow charity of mums who have harnessed and are helping. They’re very new, but very real and their name? It’s perfect: Because I am a Mother. They stirred their stumps to help mums in Scotland and Africa by selling low-cost baby items to mums in Glasgow to then help mums, especially in childbirth, in Africa. I don’t know them but they are an inspiration. And so… as I hum The Wheels on the Bus one more time as I type… I look to stir my own stumps in some way. Perhaps you’d like to take a look at what they’re doing too? I’m sure there are many other places like this across the world but I’m sure there’s room for one or two more. Mums are great like that. I’m still learning.