Dude, You’re Getting a Farmer in the Dell

At one point on CNN’s New Year’s Eve show with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, the two men began maniacally clapping and shaking their hands. A tweet from Judge Reinhold summed it up best.

Out of context, Anderson and Andy looked like drunken fools. But right before this moment, Anderson talked about how annoying the repetition from kids’ toys and other sing-songy things can be for adults. He was mimicking his son’s clapping monkey toy.

I remember how this repetition drove me insane when my son Kevin was a toddler. The piece, Dude, You’re Getting a Farmer in the Dell, which I wrote in 2004, was my version of Anderson’s Clappy Monkey.

Dude, You’re Getting a Farmer in the Dell

At 18 months old, Kevin uttered one of his first complete sentences: “More baby songs, pweeze?” Our son was talking! He was verbalizing a need, well, a want or desire to watch Kidsongs, a videotape chock full of familiar nursery rhyme sing-alongs. A gift from his grandma, Kidsongs often distracted Kevin long enough for me to shower, dress, cook, or clean. But while I tended to other things, I worried about his increased screen time. Was I laying the foundation for him to become a future couch potato?

“Sit down, Papa,” Kevin would pat the sofa, inviting me to watch with him. Chores be damned, how could I resist? He’d curl up next to me, and we would watch and sing. But our papa-son bonding time came with a price. After many consecutive viewings, my sanity took a beating. I could not match Kevin’s stamina for endless repetition. These videos were nothing less than adult torture.

I could not escape the parasitic melodies. For hours, sometimes days and weeks, it felt like I was losing my head, shoulders, knees, and toes (knees and toes). Ba-Ba Black Sheep turned my mind to cotton. The Alphabet Song penetrated my pores. It’s a Small World revolved around and rattled my skull. Often, DJ Cranium mixed snippets of different songs, leaving me in a torture spiral of the itsy-bitsy spider going ‘round the mulberry bush on top of old smoky and bingo was his name-o, ashes, ashes, we all fall down, E-I-E-I-O.

Even at the gym, on the treadmill with Springsteen’s Born to Run blasting in my ears, I would hear “Three blind mice, see how they run.” London Bridges were always falling down (falling down) wherever I was. I’d seek comfort from Danny, but since he was row, row, rowing in the same boat—and the boat was taking on water—he was no help. And so there we went loopty-loo.

Buoyed by Kevin’s enthusiasm for the videos, his grandma gave him more. When it came to these videos, they had a pusher-addict relationship. Kevin was hooked. But I was the one who needed rehab. How did other parents cope with this madness? How did they keep the wheels on the bus going round and round? Somehow, someway, I had to gain control over this infection.

I decided to fight back and treat the attack on my mind by using my adult brain as it was meant to be used: to analyze and problem-solve. So, I Googled to learn about the songs’ origins and meanings. The more I read about the nursery rhymes, the less power they had over me. I was disarming them—until I wasn’t. The earworm army was relentless and strong.

My plan B was to reinterpret the songs. Please give them a rationalization makeover. A deprogramming initiative I called “Queer Eye for the Nursery Rhyme.” What were these songs really about? What is their message, their essence? What’s the lesson or key takeaway?

I tackled the tunes one by one, starting with the five monkeys jumping on the bed. Each monkey falls off the bed and hits its head, but not one monkey gets a concussion or needs stitches. The lesson: monkeys are thick-headed and deserve a time-out.


Mary has a little lamb whose fleece is as white as snow. Fleece. Old Navy stocks plenty of fleece in the winter. But maybe Mary should wait until Spring when it’s all on clearance. Conclusion: Mary is a thrifty bargain shopper.


Jack falls and breaks his crown. Lesson: maybe Jack needs to see a new dentist.


Little Miss Muffet sits on a tuffet but scares easily. Challenge: use the word tuffet without reciting this nursery rhyme.


The cheese stands alone. Does it, really? Then why is it often paired with crackers, fruit, and wine? Methinks cheese is not the introvert it claims to be. Cheese is a joiner.

Just when I thought I was back in control of my mind, The Wiggles arrived from Australia, each wearing a solid, brightly colored shirt. There’s purple Jeff, blue Anthony, yellow Greg, and red Murray. Unlucky charms. These real-life, grown men sang and danced with a dinosaur named Dorothy, and their songs soon became more infectious than the nursery rhymes. Kevin and his mates loved The Wiggles. I mean, really, what’s not to love about grown men singing and dancing like emus, elephants, and monkeys?

I had finally found the cheese that stood alone.

Yummy, yummy.

I often miss Kevin’s toddler years. They were some of the best years of my life. But I don’t miss these videos or songs. I hope you enjoy the video below as much as I did. Happy New Year!


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