Friday, April 28, 2006

The Hat

From The Quangle Wangle's Hat, by Edward Lear

On the top of the Crumpetty Tree
The Quangle Wangle sat,
But his face you could not see,
On account of his Beaver Hat.
For his hat was a hundred and two feet wide,
With ribbons and bibbons on every side
And bells, and buttons, and loops, and lace,
So that nobody ever could see the face
Of the Quangle Wangle Quee.

I know the first verse of "The Quangle Wangle's Hat" by heart, as I heard it as a bouncing-rhyme when I was a little girl. The poem continues with the Quangle-Wangle admitting loneliness, followed by a host of other creatures building their nests on his hat. There have been a couple of picture book versions over the years, but I haven't been thrilled with any of them. Modern slang and shifts in meaning of language have made people skitter away from reading some of my favorite poems aloud. The most (in)famous of them all is another poem by Lear, "The Owl and the Pussycat". I don't resent the shifts in language, but it does make me cross that we haven't retained the original meanings of some of the words. I hate changing the language of what someone else wrote to accomodate political-correctness. I'd rather not read the story or poem aloud at all. One notable exception, however, is the reworking of Helen Bannerman's The Story of Little Black Sambo into The Story of Little Babaji, illustrated by Fred Marcellino. What's my rationale? The story is terrific!

I do make changes when I read aloud as a parent to Lucia. In the Jenny Linsky books, a cat's "Indian feathered headdress" becomes "feathered headdress." Characters who are "gay" become "merry," and if I notice gender stereotypes, I comment on them.

This post has gone in a different direction than I had planned. Really, I was going to talk about hats. Traditionally, Lucia has refused to wear a sun-hat. The hats she's gotten are beautiful, but Lucia has a thick head of hair, and I can understand why wearing a hat in the heat would be uncomfortable. Yesterday, we were in an alternative children's clothing store, and Lucia was having a fun time trying on costume skirts and shoes. I found a blue hat with a simple patch in the shape of a goose that I thought might appeal to Lucia, even though I wasn't overly thrilled with it. Lucia enjoyed it, and I thought, "Okay, I'll get this for her." I had looked at the prices of the other hats in the store, but conveniently overlooked the price on the approved hat. It was only when the cashier was ringing up the purchase that it hit me: the hat I was buying for Lucia was more expensive than a hat I would buy for myself. I was embarrassed to admit I had made that kind of mistake (not the first time, either), so I let the purchase ring through. I admit I was also scared of my toddler's potentially explosive reaction to taking back a hat that she had chosen.

I brooded about the purchase as we walked toward the cafe where Bede was going to pick us up. I tried to rationalize the purchase, but couldn't. I just couldn't. The hat wasn't even very pretty.

I did take it back, though. Ten minutes later, Bede, Lucia and I walked into the shop, and I told the cashier, "This hat was an impulse purchase." The cashier was quite kind about the whole matter. (What had I been so afraid of?) As far as Lucia's reaction went, it wasn't as bad as I thought. As I write this, I cannot believe that I was going to let my fears of her potential meltdown determine my parenting and financial responsibilities. The past couple of days had been difficult, but still, what was the big deal?

I know what the big deal was. I've wasted a lot of energy and worry over the thought that Lucia's refusal to wear a sun-hat means I am a negligent parent, exposing her to harmful ultraviolet light despite the sunblock I've slathered on her skin. Before I had a child, it was easy for me to look at other parents and think, "Why don't they put hats on their children's heads? Why are the children running around without coats on? Why don't they just be really firm with their kids and MAKE them stop screaming?"

It's humbling to be one of those "other parents." I often blow things out of proportion. It's helpful to hear my mother say, "Look, when you were a baby, I didn't put sunblock on you, and you didn't even tan." It's helpful to hear my father point out that Lucia will know to burrow under the blankets if she gets cold in bed, and that we don't have to run the heat higher than normal to protect her little toes from the chill. New parents need experienced parents to point out when things are blown out of proportion. As a teenager, I used to get bent out of shape when the adults in my life pointed out how silly I was. Now, I could use a little more of those kinds of reminders. Like the Quangle-Wangle, maybe I need more creatures to build their nests on my hat.

If they do, though, I'm going to need a bigger hat!


Nonny said...

Your so funny. I've been feeling that way lately myself. Always questioning if I'm doing enough or the right things. I've really had to start picking my battles with the little one. I just don't feel like dealing with a breakdown over whether he wears the same shirt two days in a row. If he wants to then why not. My kids would never wear hats either, even at the beach which use to make me a nervous wreck but neither of them has ever had a sunburn.

How much was that hat?

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Nonny, I am too embarrassed to say how much the hat was! I really am. Let's just say that I would have been able to pay my phone bill or take the family out for dinner. I could have bought three yards of cotton fabric and had change left-over even after I bought sparkly buttons, thread, and a pattern. I could have bought a small hand-made piece of jewelry from ABCGirl or Galetea. Like I said, the hat wasn't even that wonderful. I cannot account for my letting the transaction go through except to say that I had a moment of faint-heartedness.

I agree with you about the clothes. As long as it's weather-appropriate, she can wear what she likes. A friend of mine is struggling with her three-year old's princess fascination when "princesses don't wear sleeves," even in really cold weather. I almost wish Halloween were a movable feast so that people could dress up in what they liked while the weather was warm!

Lone Star Ma said...

I'm not sure it is ever any easier to maintain perspective. I have a child who is much older than my other child and have spent tons of time with the older child's friends as Girl Scout Leader, etc. ...but it doesn't really do anything about my silliness with the younger one. I think our parents only seem to have so much perspective because they aren't responsible for worrying about a child day-to-day anymore!

Melangell said...

On a different subject... I thought that was Bede's illustration of the Quangle Wangle's Hat... and then realized that you would have given him attirbution, were it true. He should be an illustrator, like my father.(He IS an illustrator, 'tis true. I mean, getting bucks for it.)

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Lone Star Ma: Perhaps you are right! In that case, I'm looking forward to being a grandmother... someday. I'll get to hold a wee newborn without the sleep deprivation.

Melangell: I had thought of putting Edward Lear's byline under the illustration, but decided that since the primary link went directly to that illustration, I would cut corners. Bede is getting some recompense for his illustrations in the gaming world. Oh yes, and the Celtic Bayou finally gave him his complimentary beer for the use of the doodles he left on their cardboard coasters.