How much is a parent expected to show their love? Well, if we are to believe this nursery rhyme, quite a lot. At least, if your child is a fussy narcissist who is only satisfied in praise. This is, to be fair, a rhyme for our time; an indicator of how far we have moved the focus of the family to the needs of the child above common sense. It is a warning to all new parents if we allow ourselves to listen.
The story begins with what seems to be a reasonable request of a parent to their child; just hush, don't say a word - no doubt a plea to go to sleep. There is even a sweetener in it for the child, a reward of a Mockingbird. To be honest, as a reader you are thrown off a bit with the idea of a noisy bird as a gift to a baby, particularly if the desired result is that the child goes to sleep, but we remind ourselves that this is fantasy and we allow our sense of disbelief to suspended in the hope of a good story.
But we can only suspend it for so long and while we feel for the parent in this story who is only looking to appease the needs of their child, as each item that is offered suffers from some defect, we quickly begin to wonder if the parent should seek other means. Surely there are better ways to quiet a child?
As item after item fails in some minor or major way, we are constantly asking ourselves a number of questions; is the parent just a poor judge of quality and that is why the gifts continually fail? Is the parent wealthy enough to afford all these gifts or are they digging themselves into a deeper hole of debt? Or, if like this reader thinks, does the parent suspect the child will merely break each item and so is desperately seeking the one thing that will last?
Maybe it is all three. Yet, we suspect that the answer lies with the last question, and we can see the evidence at the end of the tale, with the last item offered being one of praise; that despite the child's selfish destruction of all the items, the parent assures them that they will still be the sweetest child in town. Pure, unadulterated pandering to the child's ego.
This of course leaves us with the final question; maybe if the parent didn't pander to the child in such a manor, the child wouldn't be so dissatisfied with every gift they are offered?
In light of this realisation, what begins as a simple plea for silence maybe isn't an innocent request for the child to go to sleep at all, but an attempt by the parent to ward off an expected onslaught of demands from a spoilt child who expects to get what they want. Like a parent in a department store attempting to console a crying child disappointed that they will not get the toy they see on the shelf, the parent in this nursery rhyme is offering the equivalent of a donut from the bakery in order to get them to be quiet.
If we were to write this story for modern times, perhaps the opening line would be: "Hush, Little Timmy, don't make a scene, Mommy's gonna buy you a chocolate ice cream."
We could of course take the easy route and blame the parent for the way the child has turned out, and while they do hold some responsibility, they of course do not live in a social vacuum. If nothing else, this story demonstrates the pressure many parents find themselves facing to give all to their children, elevating the child's wants over their own. It is an indictment on society that we have come to this, where parents only feel they have two options to satisfy their children; unjustifiable praise or materialistic consumerism.