This quaint but effective message in verse was discovered by my 88-year-old father in one of his favorite volumes—The Best Loved Poems of the American People.
THE MODERN BABY
“The hand that rocks the cradle”—but there is no such hand;
It is bad to rock the baby, they would have us understand;
So the cradle’s but a relic of the former foolish days
When mothers reared their children in unscientific ways—
When they jounced them and they bounced them, these poor dwarfs of long ago—
The Washingtons and Jeffersons and Adamses, you know.
They warn us that the baby will possess a muddled brain
If we dandle him or rock him—we must carefully refrain;
He must lie in one position, never swayed and never swung,
Or his chance to grow to greatness will be blasted while he’s young.
Ah! To think how they were ruined by their mothers long ago—
The Franklins and the Putnams and the Hamiltons, you know.
Then we must feed the baby by the schedule that is made,
And the food that he is given must be measured out or weighed.
He may bellow to inform us that he isn’t satisfied,
But he couldn’t grow to greatness if his wants were all supplied.
Think how foolish nursing stunted those poor weaklings, long ago—
The Shakespeares and the Luthers and the Buonapartes, you know.
We are given a great mission, we are here today on earth
To bring forth a race of giants, and to guard them from their birth,
To insist upon their freedom the rocking that was bad
For our parents and their parents, scrambling all the brains they had.
Ah! If they’d been fed by schedule would they have been stunted so?
The Websters and the Lincolns, and the Roosevelts, you know.*
—William Croswell Doane (1832-1913)
What is your reaction to this poem?
At first, all I saw was the somewhat delightful, somewhat amusing poetic style of “yesteryear”—rollicking, carefully rhyming, almost preachy. Then some more “profound” observations began to stir inside. I realized: SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE.
· Health care professionals will continue to search for better ways to safeguard children’s health and development, and parents will continue to have trust their own common sense in the presence of those who are supposed to be experts.
· What is regarded as “modern” today will soon be “old-fashioned.” As far as this poem is concerned, that includes our science and our artistic expression.
· Truth still shines forth, even when someone’s style of expressing it is no longer considered cutting-edge or clever.
These reflections reminded me of a biblical injunction I had not fully appreciated before: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (Rom. 12:3a NIV) but “[b]e honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Rom. 12:3b NLT).
I have decided that I will feel good about what the Lord enables me to do, and leave the results (long- or short-term) up to him. I am not timeless, but he is. What I do on this earth will have the stamp of my limitations, but—if I make room for it—my contributions will be endued with the breath of his eternal genius.
. . . I’m still curious to know your reactions to this poem.
*From The Best Loved Poems of the American People, selected by Hazel Felleman, (New York: Garden City Publishing Co, 1936).