How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

The Anatomy of Make Believe (Illustrated)


The Anatomy of Make Believe This Little Piggy Little Bunny Foo Foo Itsy Bitsy Spider how to

Ah, the crazy, goofy things we come up with to entertain our offspring and ourselves!

They’re wonderful, but when you actually think about almost any nursery rhyme, you want to tilt your head and let out a slow, “Huuuuhhhh?” And adding hand or foot make-believe play, even though it can be delightful, doesn’t make them any less odd.

A lot of nursery rhymes and their hand jive date back hundreds of years, so their crazy randomness may have had something (or a lot) to do with all the mercury and opiates people were drinking back in ye olde day. But today kids ask about their meaning or you wonder to yourself about them. Hmmmmmm…

Perhaps the futile fate of the poor, deluded itsy bitsy spider was like a kid version of Greek mythology’s Sisyphus (wiki), who was cursed to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill only to have it eternally roll back down. (Which reminds me of watching cartoons on YouTube with my son, for some reason.)

This Little Pig might be considered play intended to teach kids counting, except for that whole “no actual counting” part. Who the heck knows! Maybe with Foo Foo there’s some forgotten connection to a historic clash between the aristocracy and the field mice of the lower classes? Honestly, I was too lazy to research it.

None of it seems to make any sense. But they’re for fun! So, when your child asks you why the little piggy always cries, just play your part and shut them up with a foot tickle.



50 Responses to “The Anatomy of Make Believe (Illustrated)”

  1. Gale says:

    “This is the way the lady rides, the lady rides the lady rides. This is the way the gentleman rides, the gentleman rides, the gentlemen rides. This is the way the farmer rides….”

    …Wait a sec, what type of stereotypes am I teaching my kiddo here?

    Eh, well…he’s giggling in crazy fits of glee. So…

    “Again? Sure. This is the way the lady rides…”

    • Thorsten says:

      Just interested: to which tune to you sing those words? The tune that is used in German wouldn’t really fit, that why I am interested.

      German equivalent of the game:
      So fahren die Damen, so fahren die Damen
      So reiten die Herren, so reiten die Herren
      So bumpert der Bauer, so bumpert der Bauer
      zum Tor hi-naus!

      And yes, both my boys loved it when they were like 6 to 12 months old :).

    • kevin says:

      We performed that one in our house a little differently

      This is the way the lady rides, clippety clop, clippety clop.
      This is the way the gentleman rides; Trip trop trip trop trip trop trip trop.
      This is the way the farmer rides; Hobbledy Hoy, Hobbledy Hoy.
      This is the way the Hunter rides GALLAPATROT GALLAPATROT!
      This is the way the BABY rides, clip clop FLOP! clip clop FLOP! (Flops accompanied by sideways “falling off” action – our boy loved it)

    • Andy says:

      I’ll do nearly anything for giggles.

    • Manda says:

      We changed “farmer” to “cowboy” and hold one of their hands in the air while they bounce.
      There aren’t any fields around here…..but there are a lot of rodeos!

  2. Phil says:

    There was an old Groening “Rock-a-bye-baby” cartoon that was kind of terrifying.

    I guess London Bridges and Little Jack Horner kind of speak for themselves. British earthquakes and little **********s.

    • Andy says:

      Pretty mental, as the Brits would say. Ring around the Rosie is supposed to be about the Black Plague. Fun! Not sure how exactly it is about the plague but… uh, somehow doesn’t seem any possible way that was a good idea for a children’s song.

      • Name Required says:

        Ring around the Rosie – the spots they would get on the skin
        Pocket full of posies – keeping herbs to “ward off evil”
        Ashes, ashes – they burned the bodies until it rained ashes
        we all fall down – So many people believed they were next to die from it.
        But it does sound so pretty and is so much fun to have a song where it was ok to fall on the ground and mom wouldn’t get too upset about it as long as no one was bugging her to “watch this!” one more time! πŸ˜‰

  3. Marija says:

    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

  4. Liza Hippler says:

    Oh, and then how about when the Good Fairy threatens to turn Bunny Foo Foo into a GOON after giving her 3 chances, by the end of which, Bunny has NOT learned a lesson and thus gets TURNED INTO A GOON. And so ends the rhyme. My kid LOVES this song and loves to yell out, “GOOOOOOONNN!!” Bad message, though, really.

    • Andy says:

      Totally. I actually checked that version out send I think a goon didn’t just refer to a dumb person, I think it was synonymous with a mentally disabled person.

      • Liza says:

        You know, I think I remember hearing that as I got older. That’s so awful! When I was little, I obviously didn’t know what it referred to, so I always pictured something along the lines of a creepier Slimer. So that’s pretty much what still sticks in my mind!

    • Melly says:

      The purpose of the “goon” line is so that at the end you can say, ” and the moral of the story is: HARE today, GOON tomorrow!”

      That used to make my niece crack up.

  5. kevin says:

    for victims to sneak up on? One step… twWhat about that freakish teddy bear tickler that goes round and round the garden looking for victims to sneak up on? One step… two step… AAAGH!o step… AAAGH!

  6. kevin says:

    My Previous comment got completeley mangled. It should have said this:

    What about that freakish teddy bear tickler that goes round and round the garden looking for victims to sneak up on? One step… two step… AAAGH!

    • Andy says:

      Um yeah, that’s pretty freaky. The thing is, when you do them and their eyes get all big and they laugh their cute little cheeks off, it almost seems like you could do it to the lyrics of a death metal song and it’d somehow seem normal. πŸ˜‰

  7. Mother Duck says:

    I always thought nursery rhyme writers were on crack or whatever the equivalent of crack was in their day.

  8. Lisa says:

    My 2yo son’s two favorite songs that MUST BE SUNG as we tuck him in at night:

    Rock-a-Bye Baby (see above) …and…

    If you’ve ever looked up the English translation of Alouette, you’ll know that it’s about plucking the feathers from a lark.

    It’s good to know that generations of us have learned these songs as children and NOT become sociopaths. πŸ™‚

    • Andy says:

      So true!!! I remember translating Allouette when I was pre-Internet aged. It was a slow reveal. Plume! Hey, that means feather! ::continues translating:: Whaaaaaat the fuuuuuu…

  9. kevin says:

    Also, if the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker want to take a bath together, that’s their own business. They are consenting adults.

  10. Lacey S says:

    From the department of “I know too much trivia for my own damn good”… although the earliest print copy of “itsy-bitsy spider” (or the “Eensy weensy spider”) dates from 1910, it may originate in 16th century Scotland and may be a retelling of the legend of Robert the Bruce from the early 1300’s where, wounded and defeated he sought refuge in a cave. While hiding the cave for 3 months, he watched a spider repeatedly trying to climb the mouth of the cave, slip and fall off… but eventually it had managed to attach enough silk to spin a web. Robert the Bruce took this as a lesson to never give up, and he returned to lead his troops and became a national hero. I’m slightly bothered that the legend doesn’t say if he had to destroy the web to get out of the cave, but they never do πŸ™

    I’m trying to think of good ways to modify the Little Piggies to include my son’s extra “piggie”…. How about “One little piggie said wee-wee-wee all the way home… and the LAST little piggie said “grow a pair, nancy boy!” (Bully piggie :P)

  11. kevin says:

    I’ve been a little surprised lately at the negative readings of the fifth little piggy. I always thought the fifth piggy was happily singing all the way home, but apparently some people interpret “Whee whee whee” as crying.
    I first noticed this about a month ago in a book I was reading to my son, and I thought, that’s not the fifth little piggy I know.

    MY fifth piggy is damn happy to be skipping home cause he’s probably scored some ice cream or something. Whee is a happy sound, not a crying sound.

    • Andy says:

      Me too. I almost named it SQUEE PIGGIE, but it didn’t fit with the joke as well. But I too grew up with a happy piggie. It’s to do with the breakdown in literacy and the ironic literalness that it brings; people apply the more common definition of “cry” when it is quite probably the definition of cry as in a lover crying out or a crowd crying for more.

      • Lacey S says:

        Woah… I always heard it as a sad-crying pig…. I like the happy piggie interpretation MUCH better!

        • WeirdFish says:

          Which made the GEICO commercial all that much funnier, because I’d always held it as a whining, crying pig. Of course, growing up in a Japanese household where I had the greatest command of the English language, “crying” was defined literally as “sad, tears falling,” rather than a synonym for “exclaiming.”

          I didn’t learn that until much later, and by then, the image of Sad Pig had already been burned into my psyche.

  12. Laurie says:

    This is so funny, brightened up my crappy day! People who wrote those things were clearly on crack or something!

  13. Linda says:

    In our house the piggie always runs all the way up to the top of the head with a little tickling along the way, all the while happily chortling “wee wee wee”. Always good for extra giggles, sometimes even out of the teenager. πŸ™‚

  14. Gale says:

    A friend just posted this amazing quote about fairy tales…and I was thinking, “I was just reading something funny about fairy tales. Where was that. Oh yeah!”

    The quote isn’t funny, but wanted to share anyways:

    “Fairy Tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

    Chesterton, “Tremendous Trifles”

  15. Manda says:

    When I was in high school, I had a group of friends who were realllly into wrestling. One of them had a nephew so we came up with a new version of the piggies for him.

    This little piggie was Stone Cold and he was the bestest.
    This little piggie wrassled Stone Cold and HE WENT DOWN!!!
    This little piggie was The Rock and he wasn’t no jabroni because he eated his Beefaroni.
    This little piggie was The Undertaker and he’ll choke-slam you straight to heck.
    And this little piggie was Shane McMahon and he went “wee wee wee” all around the ring.

    Yeah….we were dorks in high school. LOL

  16. Amber says:

    THis Halloween my six year old changed litl bunny foofoo to scooping up the field mice and chopping off their heads.

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