Tag Archives: parents

Trot Trot to Boston

The informant is a 22 year old college graduate that is now working at a software company in Madison, WI. He grew up in Upton, Massachusetts until he left Upton to go to college in Los Angeles, California. . Upton is a small (population 7,542) town about 45 minutes south-west of Boston. He grew up in a loosely Catholic household with both of his parents and two younger sisters (3 years younger and 7 years younger).

I first heard this rhyming song before I thought to collect it, approximately 2 years ago when he jokingly performed the piece for me. I asked him to repeat the rhyme and asked him a few more questions about it on the date specified below. The song/rhyme is usually said by parents to their small children. He mainly remembers his father saying the rhyme to him and his younger sisters when they were small enough to easily fit on his lap but old enough to sit upright (i.e. they were not newborns).  The words are as follows:

Trot trot to Boston,

Trot trot to Lynn,

Watch out little baby,

Or you might fall in!


The rhyme is said while the child is on the adult’s lap. Overall, the rhythm of the rhyme is reminiscent of a horse’s gallop, which makes sense when you take the “trot trot” as referring to horses (not the child) trotting. As each syllable is said, the adult moves their legs by lifting their heels, creating a physical movement for the child that is very much like a what would be experienced during a horse ride. As the adult says the last two words (“fall in”), the adult moves their knees apart and lets the child drop slightly as if they are falling. The adult, of course, does not let the child actually fall and usually has their arms around the child to make sure this does not happen.

Both Boston and Lynn are cities in Massachusetts and are only ten miles apart, making a horse ride between them a feasible idea. The route between them is also near the coast, which may mean that “falling in” refers to falling in some sort of water or marshy land. The informant remembers his father saying this rhyme when they were being silly, so it is not an attempt to seriously scare the child by letting them think the adult would drop them. This plays with the feelings between of protection needed by children. By saying the child could fall, letting them fall a little bit but preventing them from completely falling to the ground, the parent is effectively saying “I’ve got you” without having to say those words.

There are several variations of this rhyme that use different cities in Massachusetts, some of which are published in a book called Trot-trot-to-Boston: Play Rhymes for Baby by Carol Ra. (the ISBN for the 1987 version is 9780688061906)

Though the informant does not have children or any nieces or nephews to tell this rhyme to, he does subject his girlfriend to the rhyme if he is in a particularly silly mood.

Evil eye sayings

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. She says that a common thing to say when you see someone  in new clothes, or looking particularly beautiful; or when someone has very good fortune in (for instance) an exam or a job; or, especially, with children and new babies; is

“Nazr-bad-door” or “Chashme-bad-door”







which, word-for-word, means “look-bad-far-away” or “eye-bad-far-away”, but translates to, “May the Bad Gaze/Evil Eye stay far away from you.”

Analysis: The purpose of this little saying is basically to keep away the Evil Eye, which the informant says can be put on someone if they are envied or have something that others covet (eg, good grades or good health). When the Evil Eye is put on you, you may fall sick, fail in your job or school, lose your money, etc. Children are especially susceptible because they are often the center of attention, especially in the informant’s Pakistani family, and so if someone merely looks at a child with selfish or ungracious thought in their mind, the child could fall ill or have an accident, etc. It is thus important to remember to praise God when you see something beautiful and not be jealous or ungrateful, and this phrase is a way to remind oneself of that, and also to express the desire to protect someone from others’ ill gazes as well. The informant said all this as what people “used to believe”, implying that the traditional phrase is kept even though the specific belief may have been altered or abandoned altogether.

“The wolves are coming!” 狼來了!

“So a long long time ago, there was a kid… he has to release the sheep at home.  So everyday he would run up the top of a mountain, watching the sheep eat grass and the like.  So everyday is like this and he thinks it’s really boring.  When he was bored, he would look everywhere and when he looked down he would see a lot of farmers, they’re there tilling the soil.  So the boy thinks, “Eeeh?  I’m this bored, why don’t I fool them first!”  So, really loudly… then… so he thinks, “how do I fool them?” And he loudly yells “Save me!  Wolves are coming!” So… the farmers at the foot of the mountain go, “Eh?  The kid on the mountain is yelling for help… he says there’s a wolf,” so they immediately put down all their work, run up the mountain to save the boy.  So the boy is watching the farmers, so he sees the farmers running up the mountain and thinks it’s really funny, and very entertaining, like watching them do a show or something, so he… then the farmers run up and are exhausted, panting, and when they reach the boy, the boy happily claps his hands “Yay, yay, I fooled you guys!  I fooled you guys, there wasn’t a wolf in the first place, seeing you all run up, so cute!”  So the farmers say “Huh, this kid, playing with us like this,”  so they unhappily descend the mountain.  So okay, an amount of time passes, the boy still has to go up the mountain every day to tend to the sheep, and he sits and thinks “Ughh, so boring… last time was pretty fun though!  Again!”  So for a second time… then… he tries it again, yelling “Save me, save me!  Wolves are coming, the wolves are coming and carrying all my sheep away!  Save me, you better come quickly and save me!”  Then the farmers, at first, see him yelling like that and have… have… hesit-hesitate, have some hesitation, thinking “Hm?  Is this kid… is it true this time?”  But the kid, seeing the farmers… he calls the farmer and sees they are ignoring them and continues, acting really afraid and yelling “Save me, save me!”  The farmers don’t want to risk having wolves eating the sheep, so at the end the farmers decide to run up the mountain and save the kid, and they run, run, run, run up the mountain and the kid, again, goes, “Yay, yay, you’re all dense, you’re all silly, hahaha!  You’re all really silly!”  So this time the farmers are really angry… “This kid really is naughty, so ill-disciplined, right?”  “He’s like this, tricking us, wanting us to abandon our work to run up and save him, he… it turns out he’s joking with us.”  Then, an amount of time passes, and the kid goes up the mountain to tend to the flock again, and this time he’s really unlucky, there really is a wolf coming.  When the wolf is actually coming, it carries away his sheep, bites his goat…his sheep.  This time he’s actually terrified and screams “Save me! Save me!  Farmers below, hurry up and save, there’s really a wolf!  Faster, save me!”  Then the farmers hear it this time and think  “This kid is fooling us again?  He’s already fooled us twice… let’s not go save him.”  This time the farmers decide to ignore the kid.  Unfortunately, this time, a wolf really does come down.  So the wolf ate… carried away all the sheep and wounded the kid as well.  This kid, at this time, is really regretful.  He thinks, “why did I have to lie in the past to trick people?  Now that I’ve tricked people, they no longer have trust, they don’t trust me, so this time when I really have hardship, no one is willing to help me.”  So this story teaches children to be honest, don’t lie; if you lie, no one will trust you, and if there’s really danger, no one will save you.”

My mother heard this story from her mother as a child.  Her mother would tell her this story, usually like a bedtime story, and teach her the lesson of not lying.  My mother and her sisters would often rely on their mother to tell stories like this to pass the time.

At first, I didn’t recognize the story because the title was “Wolf is coming!”  in Cantonese (狼來了!)  But when I heard the story I recognized it as a version of the folk story, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”  I think the difference in the titles comes down to the fact that “狼來了!” is catchier (long loi liu!) and that “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” does not have a particularly smooth Cantonese translation.

In this telling in particular, the “kid” is referred to in Cantonese as siu peng you (xiao peng you, 小朋友), which refers to kids in general but is also understood to refer to boys more often than girls.  Perhaps this is because most other versions of the story feature a boy.  I also found it interesting that the kid sees farmers, instead of being part of a village and yelling to the villagers for help.  The comments of the boy towards the farmers are likely different with each performance.  The “hahahas” were added as a sort of flavor by my mother in this particular performance of the piece.

In other versions I’ve heard, the resolution is adverse but not particularly violent; for example, the sheep would run away at the sight of the wolf.  I was surprised that this version, which my mother learned as a child, has the kid injured and the sheep eaten.  There is also no seen with the farmers teaching the kid a lesson – the lesson comes from the kid reflecting on his mistake.

A variation of this tale in literature can be found in B.G. Hennessy’s children’s book, The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  It seems that there’s yet another variation in this authored text;  at some point the boy’s friend gets involved.  The information of this book is below:

Hennessy, B. G., and Boris Kulikov. The Boy Who Cried Wolf. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2006. Print.

Snacks and Playing outside with Dad

In the following, my informant details a tradition she and her sister shard with her father growing up:

When I was little we always had to do our homework before we went outside, but before that, my dad would come pick us up from school and he’d always make us snacks like it was, my dad made snacks, and whether it was nachos, or whether he made, like, I don’t know leftovers from the night before that we weren’t going to have for dinner, he’d always make them for us, and then, he never played with us but he’d always, if my mom wasn’t home, he’d let us play outside with our friends before we did our homework, which would make my mom so mad, so we did that.

The following tradition shows the dichotomy between the father and mother parent relationship common in many American households. Whereas the Mom tried to keep order and discipline, by requiring the informant finish her work before playing outside, the father would make the informant snacks and let her play outside earlier, thus, although incurring the mom’s wrath, winning the reputation of the benevolent father, a situation many parents have to deal with, where a mom is trying to be strict and a Dad, who often spends less time with the kids, will come home and release the children from the Mom’s imposed discipline.

Hush Little Baby

Informant Bio/Context
My informant is a mother in her late 40s who works as a database manager for a community college. Her two children are both grown and live away from home. She lives with her husband, their dog and two cats.

My informant used to sing the lullaby written below to her kids when they were infants. She told me: “I like lullabies and I think it worked to calm the kids when they were cranky and tired but couldn’t fall asleep. Maybe it didn’t make a difference, plenty of moms don’t sing to their kids, but me I like music, so I did and they slept.”

Song Lyrics
Hush little baby, don’t say word
Mamma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
If that mockingbird don’t sing
Mamma’s gonna buy you a diamond ring
If that diamond ring turns to brass
Mamma’s gonna buy you a looking glass
If that looking glass gets broke
Mamma’s gonna buy you  a billy goat
If that billy goat won’t pull
Mamma’s gonna buy you a cart and a bull
If that cart and bull falls down
You’ll still be the sweetest baby in town
So hush little baby, don’t say a word
Mamma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.

My informant told me that she couldn’t remember where she first heard the song, only that she can’t remember not knowing it, so she suspects she learned it in her childhood. She does not remember her parents ever singing it to her. She likes lullabies because she finds them “endearing and calming.” So when she had children she would sing them the ones she remembered from her youth, and others she would look up in books of nursery rhymes.

Lullabies feel personal, even if singing them doesn’t come from a family tradition. The lilting melodies are soothing, and the rhymes innocent and nonsensical, making them easy for parents to share with their kids. The association of lullabies with childhood and our children gives us a sense of the cycle of life, from child to parent, regardless of whether or not we are singing the same lullabies to our kids as our parents sang to us.

お父さん and お母さん — Japanese Folk Speech

In Japan, married couples who have children often begin to call each other 「お父さん」(otousan) and 「お母さん」(okaasan) which translates to “father” and “mother.” The apparent strangeness of this phenomenon is illuminated only when one tries to apply it to American society, where parents generally still call each other by their names or pet-names. An American mother, for instance, although she may say to her child something like, “Look, your father is over there!” would never, when speaking alone with her husband, call him “father,” just as her husband would never refer to his wife as “mother.”

My informant, who has spent her entire life in the city of Naha-shi in Okinawa, Japan, was extremely surprised when I told her of the apparent strangeness of this folk speech. Her mother has always called her husband (and my informant’s father) “father,” and her father has always called his wife “mother.” It was always perfectly natural for my informant and for everybody else in Japanese society to hear parents talking to each other as if they were each other’s children. Though they refer to each other by their names occasionally, they very rarely stray from this folk speech, which seems to characterize the relationships between most parents in Japanese society.

Though Japan has a very low divorce rate, research has shown it to have one of the highest percentages of unhappily married couples in the world. This percentage, though partly a result of women lacking the economic independence to free themselves from an unhappy marriage, also arises from the prominence of children in Japanese married life. According to my informant, many a Japanese couple, after they have children, shift towards investing their entire life and love towards their children, becoming not man and woman but “father” and “mother,” defining themselves solely by their positions as their children’s caretakers.

When my informant came on an extended visit to America, she was perplexed to see, on some American TV show, an episode when the parents leave their kids with a baby-sitter and go off on a night of their own. The concept of a baby-sitter barely even exists in Japan, where usually women serve as housewives and are always home, and where the possibility of leaving the children behind to go on a date as man and woman feels like some kind of betrayal of the family system. 「結婚したらロマンスなくなるよね〜」was what my informant’s mother had said, which, roughly translated, means You can’t expect the romance to keep going after you get married and have kids.

That parents have–always, it seems–called each other 「お父さん」 and 「お母さん」referring to themselves only as “father” and “mother” in relation to their children, seems understandable then, in the context of Japanese society. Perhaps this folk speech derives itself from the very culture and sensibilities of the Japanese people. In Japan, perhaps, nurturing children and creating a cohesive family with clearly defined roles is seen as more important and easier, perhaps, than a passionate love between parents, hence the reason why so many people disregard their names (and subsequently, perhaps even their individual identities) to adopt the generic roles of mother, and of father.