‘The Meatball: Not a Funny Rhyme’ says Peter Jerz, age 5-3/4; or, Child Traumatized by ‘On Top of Spaghetti’

I went into the office for about an hour and a half tonight. When I came back, my wife was writing busily at the kitchen table. “I’ve got a blog entry for you,” she said. This is rather momentous — she has very little interest in cyberculture. But here’s what she wrote. (Let this be a warning to other couples who start a family when they are both English Ph.D. students.)

It is dangerous to sing children’s songs at dinnertime.
Carolyn, at 20 months, satisfied with any song, happily repeats the last word of any line like a sweet echo. Peter, on the other hand…

First I try “Found a Peanut,” but Peter asks too many theological questions (“Why did he kick the angel?”) so I say nevermind, here’s a better song, and sing “On Top of Spaghetti.”

CC photo by inazakira

On top of Spaghetti
All covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball
When I had to sneeze.
It rolled off the table
And onto the floor
And then my poor meatball
Rolled out of the door.
It rolled off the front porch
And under a bush
And then my poor meatball
Was nothing but mush.

Peter has been growing red in the face and teary-eyed. I stop singing. “Are you crying about that meatball?” I ask. He nods.

I try to explain that the song is supposed to amuse children, not to make them sad.

“I just can’t stop thinking and thinking about that poor meatball,” he says, tears rolling from his pinched, squinting eyes. “I’ve been thinking about it for an hour. Is an hour 60 minutes?”

“Yes.”

“For who would want to eat it when it’s mush under a bush?”

“Ants?” I suggest. “Or maybe a dog will find it.”

“And another thing… they should close the front door. Then the meatball would just bounce on it and roll back to him.”

“Good point.”

“Or maybe he should remember to cover his mouth when he sneezes.”

Peter seems to be regaining his composure, but a few minutes later, he bursts into full crying. I kiss his red face and try to think of other ways to soften his horror at the meatball’s hard fate. [Mushy fate. — DGJ] Maybe the boy was dawdling, and the meatball sat on his plate too long, and wouldn’t taste good anymore anyway. He doesn’t seem convinced. I encourage Peter to finish his pizza (he’s been dawdling for over an hour), because pizza is Italian food, just like meatballs & spaghetti, and the meatball might be glad he ate Italian food.

Finally I tell him we’ll write down how he feels and put it on the Internet, so that everyone knows it’s not a good song to sing. This is all that will console Peter, and help him feel he’s set things right.

“But you’ll never be able to distract me from that meatball.”

Indeed, a few minutes later, he again bursts into full crying, wailing, “Oh! If only that boy dived on the floor and saved the meatball!”

I put on The Wiggles to distract Peter, who still asks, “Are you writing yet?” while I try to clear the table. “You write down the words and put it on the Internet!”

As I write, he comments that it should have been a cancer cell, not a meatball.

“What would a cancer cell have been doing on top of spaghetti?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Probably putting germs on it.”

A little while later, he supplies the title (“The Meatball: Not a Funny Rhyme”) and composes the following song for parents to sing instead:

“Lucky Meatball”

There was a meatball all covered in cheese.
His father went to close the front door
And said if you sneeze, please sneeze at the floor.
The meatball was poked on a fork
The cheese fell onto the spaghetti
When the ball went up, it went into a mouth and got chewed by teeth.
The cheese was on the first noodle that the boy scooped up.
The meatball got digested into crumbs.
And the boy brushed his teeth.
He said his prayers and went to bed.

Peter is in bed now while I am typing this. “The song about the meatball… do you think it’s funny?” he just called out.

“I don’t know,” I said. “What do you think?”

“I don’t think it’s funny,” he said, his voice trembling. “I think it’s sad. The meatball had nourishment for him.”

Here you go, Internet… make things right for a little boy.