Childhood And Those Damn Fortune Cookies

Betty Botter bought some butter,
But, she said, the butter’s bitter;
If I put it in my batter
It will make my batter bitter,
But a bit of better butter
Will make my batter better.
So she bought a bit of butter
Better than her bitter butter,
And she put it in her batter
And the batter was not bitter.
So t’was better Betty Botter
bought a bit of better butter.

This tongue twister is not very old, considering the age of many nursery rhymes, showing up first around 1899 in The Jingle Book by Carolyn Wells. I was surprised to find this particular rhyme, because it was one of my favourites when I was younger. I used to read it over and over, insisting to myself its perfect repetition. The words are so similar in look and sound that the syncopated phrasing would roll out of my mouth with the regularity of a drumbeat, the words rendered nearly meaningless by the uniformity of their sounds. Speed also became important in the delivery of this rhyme, and I remember repeating it in less than twenty seconds and feeling quite proud of my accomplishment. If I am remembering correctly, I think my teacher at the time even gave me some kind of award for this achievement. If only accomplishments such as these were recognized in adult life! I would be considered brilliant beyond all expectation. How many of your own footsteps can you count before you forget to count them? 257. Good show! If you stare at one square foot of a stippled ceiling to discern how many human faces appear in it, and you multiply that by the number of square feet of ceiling, how many faces are staring down at you? 1200. Marvelous! How long did you manage to stick it out in dodgeball without having your glasses knocked off your face? I was the fifth last person standing. Impressive, to say the least! No, I am not wishing for the return of that wretched stage of life called childhood, but I do sometimes long for that time when we had not yet been taught to be so self-critical of our thoughts and behaviours, when it was enough to have completed a thing, when a task was begun and its journey enjoyed so thoroughly that the end of it provided a small rush of excitement, as though its completion had rushed up to greet you and you had not expected to see it so soon. I do still get those little rushes of self-satisfaction when I’ve managed to wrestle some html code into creating a decent-looking weblog, or when I’ve made a particularly smashing batch of roasted rosemary-crusted potatoes, but nobody else cares to caress my ego the way they used to. I grew up in the suburbs where teachers and relatives congratulated children often for things like running fast, spelling well, reading a whole book, and being good. When you grow up, other grown ups don’t care so much if you can run fast, but they are impressed if you run at all. Nobody notices if you are a good speller, but they assume you’re a moron if you’re not. They could care less if you do any reading outside of work, and we all assume that nobody is good, just subtle and varying shades of positives and negatives. The way we view behaviours and success obviously must change as we grow older, but our desire for recognition and joy in small things remains the same. Maybe I will choose to become more self-indulgent, committing more and more small, happy, satisfying acts, and maybe I will take more time to tell people that they have done a good job or they are smart or they have a refreshing personality. That sounds good. Indulgence can be good. I’ll stroke your ego if you’ll stroke mine.

The fortune cookie thing just will not stop following me. Ever since that entry on September 14th, fortune cookies show up in my searches in the most unlikely places, like in a "joy in small things" google search.

Childhood in History Facts and Links:
* The ancient Greeks considered their children to be "youths" until they reached the age of 30.
* In ancient Rome, parents had the right to sell their children into slavery in order to pay off their debts.
* A few ideas on the history of childhood from Ariès, de Mause, Locke, and Rousseau.
* In amassing his psychohistories, Lloyd de Mause has found not one life of a child dating from before 1690 in which the child had not been physically abused. Here is de Mause’s most famous quote: “The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awake. The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused.”
* A few great pictures of children taken between 1890 and 1925.
* The legal working age in the UK is 13. A study was done of 1000 children in the north-east of England, and it was found that 25% of working children were below the legal working age. What is England’s government thinking? (See the BBC News).
* I love the pictures that go with old children’s literature. One of my favourites is the picture accompanying The Children’s Theatre by Franz Bonn.
* Ever the shoe junkie, I have to include these pictures of chinese children’s shoes. If I ever have a child, I’m heading straight to this site for a baby shoe shopping extravaganza.
* The Museum of the City of New York has a wonderfully broad collection of pictures from its 2001 exhibit called “Dressing for a New York City Childhood.”