Does He Really Fall, Mommy?

I’ve just finished tucking my 5-year-old in for the night. We have an elaborate but working bedtime ritual (bath or shower, brushing teeth and hair, stories, candle prayer with all of us, lights out, songs and cuddles with mommy) that begins just after dinner and ends with me creeping out of the room in the dark. I sing the same eight songs every night. Then I choose from one to six others in a regular rotation—I’m just wacky enough to mix ’em up once in a while! (Yes, I am a rockstar.)

The second-to-last song is always “Rock-A-Bye Baby.” I used to not sing this song to Lucas, but he started asking for it about a year ago. I figured one of his teachers sang this song at naptime. The last song is always “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” This one is by far his favorite lullaby.

Tonight Lucas asked me, “Does the baby really fall out of the tree, Mommy?” And I was left momentarily speechless. Because … well, I KNOW! What a terrible thing to sing to a small child! This is exactly why I chose not to sing it for so long! 

I said, lamely, “Well, it’s a way of saying the baby falls asleep.”

The internet says:

The words and lyrics to this nursery rhyme are reputed to reflect the observations of a young pilgrim boy in America who had seen Native Indian mothers suspend a birch bark cradle from the branches of a tree enabling the wind to rock the cradle and the child to sleep. The rhyme also hold a warning on the choice of bough!

Wikipedia elaborates.

(author unknown)

Rock-a-bye, baby
In the treetop
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all

Baby is drowsing
Cosy and fair
Mother sits near
In her rocking chair
Forward and back
The cradle she swings
And though baby sleeps
He hears what she sings

From the high rooftops
Down to the sea
No one’s as dear
As baby to me
Wee little fingers
Eyes wide and bright
Now sound asleep
Until morning light 

I think I’ll try to learn the two last verses.

5 Responses to “Does He Really Fall, Mommy?”

  • smiley_t
    February 27, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Mark and I are part of a parents group. The group leader gave us a list of songs with lyrics. “Rock a Bye Baby” was on the list. They changed the lyrics to be much kinder. Here they are:

    Rock a bye baby, in the tree top
    When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
    Though the bough bends, it never will fall
    And safe will be baby
    Bough, cradle and all.

    They also altered the words to “You Are My Sunshine.” If you listen to the original lyrics, especially those of the second verse, it’s really about some guy stalking his (presumably) girlfriend. Here are the altered lyrics:

    You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
    You make me happy when skies are grey
    You’ll always know, dear, how much I love you
    ‘Cause I’ll tell you every single day.

    Original nursery rhymes are pretty bad too. For example, “Ashes to ashes” is about the plague and people dying. It’s interesting to learn about the history of children’s songs and nursery rhymes – they are snapshots into world history!


  • smiley_t
    February 27, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Sorry, the real title of the nursery rhyme I’m thinking of is “Ring around the Rosie.” That was the mark that would appear on people’s skin when they were infected with the plague. The “pocket full of posie” was to mask the smell. And “ashes to ashes” was originally “achoo achoo” – a symptom of illness. “We all fall down” is pretty self explanatory.


  • dizzyburner
    February 27, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    The Waldorf School second verse:

    Cow is in the meadow
    Eating buttercup
    A-tishoo! a-tishoo!
    We all stand up.

    Now, no one actually admits that this is a metaphor for reincarnation, but…


  • smiley_t
    February 27, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Hmmmm… I’d never heard that verse before. My brother in law and his family lived in Eyam, the plague village, for about 5 years. I’ll have to teach them that verse!


  • sarabellae
    February 27, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for the new lyrics! Yes, I’ve heard about the plague background story before. I think “ashes, ashes” might be a reference to “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”


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    Thanks for visiting! I’m Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

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