At the tender age of seven when I had my tonsils taken out, I woke from the ether anaesthetic with a terrible headache. The recovery nurse had placed a wash cloth on my forehead, but it was HOT! I wanted relief and just knew that a cold, wet cloth would ease my throbbing head. I was burning up with pain and began begging the nurse, pleading, “Colder … colder!” Through my tears a blurry nurse checked me out, patted my cheek, turned and walked away. No cold, wet wash cloth for me. Grogginess moved in against the hurting helplessness and abandonment, turning the noisy room quiet and black.
Next thing I remember––I was back in my regular hospital room. Mom was there. My head still hurt. Just as I was asking Mom for a cold, wet wash cloth, some guy brought in a cold metal bowl of orange sherbet and placed it on that little table that goes over the bed. I grabbed it, resting the side of the bowl against my hot aching forehead. Ahhhhhh! At last! The cold felt so good — and after I convinced Mom that a sherbet head compress was really the best use for this dessert, I settled in while she cranked up the back of the bed, letting me sit upright.
Soon after, she placed some kid’s books (no television sets in hospital rooms in those days) on that little table, beside the sherbet spoon which I still ignored. The small pile of books included a Humpty Dumpty magazine that demanded my attention. I melted the sherbet, holding the bowl here and there against my head while reviewing the Humpty magazine cover to cover. Humpty … hmm. As my headache went away this magazine with Humpty was making me think. I knew from the nursery rhyme that Humpty was bruised and broken and I really identified with him through my pain during this scary time. All the king’s horses and men (recast in my drama as that darned nurse) couldn’t put him together again. But a bowl of sherbet, who knew?
Years passed. I grew, got married, had kids. Soon I was reading Mother Goose to my kids sharing a comfortable couch together, all nice and cozy. Reading to toddlers is good for them (according to parenting books). I wanted to stimulate their minds so they’d grow up smart and literate, able to understand the world much better than I me.
One day it happened. Reading Humpty Dumpty to them for the umpteenth time, I started to wonder–– if kids learn from having things read to them, what was this particular rhyme teaching my kids? The ending was pretty negative. In fact it completely sucked.
“So, what do you guys think about Humpty,” I asked. “He got hurt,” quickly answered my youngest daughter. “He’s crying,” offered my slightly older daughter, “but then he died.”
With sudden impulse I pointed back to the page and with my reading voice added, “So Humpty really didn’t need all those horses anyway … and somehow … he decided to reach up … and somehow … he got better … and back on the wall.” They were still too young to read for themselves so I got away with it, turning the page before they knew what hit them. From that point on, every time I got to the Humpty page I’d make up a sweetening verse, trying to make lemonade from lemons. And with playgrounds and monkey bars being fairly new to my daughters, I wanted them to think of falling in a more positive light.
My curiosity grew, wondering if Humpty had some sort of after effect on adults. I asked a multitude of co-workers, “Ever hear of Humpty Dumpty?” Everyone had. “Can you recite the rhyme?” I asked. Most of them could, while they poked me with glances of suspicion. After all, when one goes to a coffee machine for a well-deserved break, the last thing expected is to be asked to recite a nursery rhyme.
The number of people in my little experiment grew and revealed some other things I had not thought about before.
(more to come on next post)