‘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?”


“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.

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

  1. I found this blog because that song made me cry for the meatball as a kid, and I was wondering if anyone else did.

  2. Omg lol u need too toughen ur son up!! U are changing a famous nursery song bc ur sons crying over a damn meatball😀😀put him in counseling or he’ll grow up to b a nut job!

  3. I love what you have done for Peter!! it is so nice to see parents take the time to encourage their children to work through their own feelings and come up with a creative solution. I have worked in a daycare for 8 years and have only had a few parents as dedicated as you. I hope i can be as understanding and patient with my own son as he grows up! Give Peter a great big squeeze from Mack And his mom!

  4. On top of spaghetti all covered with cheese.
    I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed.

    It rolled off the table, it rolled on the floor,
    And then my poor meatball rolled out of the door.

    It rolled in the garden and under a bush,
    And then my poor meatball was nothing but mush.

    The mush was as tasty as tasty could be,
    And early next summer it grew to a tree.

    The tree was all covered with beautiful moss.
    It grew great big meatballs and tomato sauce.

    So if you eat spaghetti all covered with cheese,
    Hold on to your meatball and don’t ever sneeze.


  5. I’ve always found that song rather depressing so I made up a second verse to the same tune:

    I was still hungry, so I jumped in the car.
    It didn’t take long, I didn’t have to drive far.
    I wanted spaghetti, with meatballs and cheese.
    So I drove through Fazoli’s.

  6. Hi, i love the meatball song because it has a better ending. this is the last verse:
    The very next summer
    There grew up a tree
    And on it were meatballs
    To have for mi tea!!!
    Sing this to ur little boy and it will amke him happy again!!

  7. I feel so sad for the poor boy that is kind of a cute story and yes I did chuckle at times but please don’t tell him that. I have kind of been in the same situation as you where mom so don’t feel bad but what I’m really surprised about is that you really did put this on the internet well I hope you enjoy the rest of the night and please make more renditions of this song so I can pass it to my little sis and others as well.

  8. I haven’t mentioned this blog entry to Peter in about a year. He still feels very strongly about it. Well, I’m glad your son didn’t have quite the same reaction!

  9. Hi Dennis, I have a 3 year old and tonight we were eating meatlovers pizza full of meatballs of course. I told my son that I knew a meatball song (kinda of a fib as I really only remembered the first verse). So we did a google search for the words, which I found and sang to him, he thought it was hilarious thank goodness. I am waiting for the analyses too as he is usually quite analytical about the nonsensical. Way to go Peter for coming up with your own version. What a creative young man, I bet none of you would have thought that over 2 1/2 years later you would still be getting comments!

  10. I felt a little sentamental as a child when I heard the song. I feel the melody makes an impact, simular to My Darline Clementine. My ending was the meatball continued to trvel untill we lost intrest to it and started singing another song. being compassionat to the feelings towards others has led me to a long career as a New Orleans Paramedic. It’s sad to see your child upset but it’s comforting to know he is compassionate to the feelings of others. If only more people heard that song as a child and learn to care about the feelings of others. on another ideal, serve spagaetti with meatballs and let one of the meatballs fall. After it’s made obvious that it did not roll away, pick it up and show the little guy that it’s OK. Maby you might have a new future Dr. in the house the will have an vary passionate bed side manor. I hope this helps

  11. when i read the rhyme in the book, maybe if you would like to tell your son,they did make a happy ending,since it rolled under a bush, nobody could get it, but afterwards, it actually grew into a meatball tree, and everybody was happy, and the meatballs all got eaten..hehe.*happily ever after?*

  12. the meatball touched in ways i never thought possible. trips to ikea restaurants have become extremely emotional. thank for this rhyming masterpeice

  13. I’m sorry to hear about your meatball plight. It makes me sad because meatballs should be something that’s enjoyed, not scary for child. There are for me a childhood favorite and they evoke nothing but pleasurable memories for me. May I make a humble suggestion? My name is Nancy Mure and I am the author of Massimo’s Meatballs, a very funny story about a boy’s first cooking experience which is available at http://www.writeronlinebooks.com/book/massimosmeatballs.htm It is available as an e-book for immediate viewing or on CD-ROM. As an accompaniment to that, you may want to check out learningexpress.com and order the game, Alfredo’s Food Fight. I think your son would enjoy torpedoing meatballs at a spinning chef with velcro dishes. I hope this helps you and puts a smile on all of your faces. Best, Nancy S. Mure

  14. On top of spaghetti all covered with cheese.
    I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed.

    It rolled off the table, it rolled on the floor,
    And then my poor meatball rolled out of the door.

    It rolled in the garden and under a bush,
    And then my poor meatball was nothing but mush.

    The mush was as tasty as tasty could be,
    And early next summer it grew to a tree.

    The tree was all covered with beautiful moss.
    It grew great big meatballs and tomato sauce.

    So if you eat spaghetti all covered with cheese,
    Hold on to your meatball and don’t ever sneeze.

  15. the song brings back fond memories for me. we used to have fun singing all the time, especially when over at my grandmothers. but if your child interprets it in a negative way then his interpretation should be respected and acted upon in any manner that would calm him and remedy the situation, like what you’ve done on the internet.

    the song isn’t as important as your son’s feelings. nice job mom !!!

  16. hehe, i search meatball song on google, found a sing-a-long version aswell..yes im slightly sad im 14 :D and hyperactive at 11:45 at night WWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, moving on…awwwww peter sounds so adorable i used to hate and still do hate, baa baa black sheep, partly because i think the sheep wasnt getting any of his own wool :'(, and the boy lived down the lane, where was his mummy and daddy? IM NOT SAD! okay maybe a little bit…*rolls eyes* hey dont judge :) lol
    A lil hello and a wave to Peter, im sure he’ll grow up to be a charming young man :D all the best in the future

  17. That’s great! BTW I remember the 4th line being ‘When somebody sneezed’. So the singer wasn’t to blame after all, and was eating in a restaurant rather than at home – and that’s why the door was open! …

  18. Jess, my wife says, “He sang it, with a little tune that he was kind of winging. I don’t think it quite fit, because the meter of the lines isn’t right, but he did try to sing it. It was his own little tune.”

  19. I was never a fan of the song as a kid, because my mother’s rendition always sounded so melancholy! Only when I was 26 did I hear Tom Glaser’s recording and think “Hey, it’s a comic song!” I think Peter would have benefited from hearing it in full, but hope this page helped him, and bless him for writing an alternative to exorcise the demons. Does he give it a tune (it doesn’t seem to use the same melody) or recite it as a poem?

  20. how creative that he wanted to make up his own song. i hope he feels better about it now. i bet he will grow to really like that silly song. what’s up with alicia?

  21. I don’t mean to blow anyones spot up or anything, but really if a childs song bothers you that much you need to get put on some meds. Thats crazy, go get seen by a Dr. . Come on now, it is a song sang by children across the country. Get over it, really. I can’t believe you had the nerve to make a site up about a child being scared of a song….

  22. :)

    I do the same for my kids sometimes, but vice versa. Listening to English music is quite usual for us, but listening to dad’s attempts in speaking English is always a hit. :)

    I have placed a link to this page on my homepage.

    By the way: Dein Deutsch ist gar nicht so schlecht — ich hatte jedenfalls keine Probleme, es zu verstehen.

  23. Peter, meine Deutsch ist sehr schleht — ich habe es nicht gesprochen (order gescrieben? gescreiben? ich can nicht mich erenneren) vor viele yahren. Aber, danke schoen fur das… uh…. vie sacht man “Link”?

    Gestern morgen, amusierte ich meinen Peter wann ich nur Deutsch zu ihm gesprochen.

  24. Hello again!

    (quote) Nice to hear from you, Peter. What’s the origin of your name?(quote end)

    Thank you!

    My father’s family came from Czechoslovakia. Out family name is pronounced like the German “Herz”, but starting with a “j” that sounds like the “y” in “year”. “hairtz” works quite good as an example.

    By the way: I’d like to place a link to this page on my homepage (see URL, but it’s under construction again). If you don’t like it, please send me an email, then i’ll remove the link, if I find the time to place it at all.

    Best wishes for all of you,

    from YAPJ
    (yet another Peter Jerz! ;) )

    PS: I hope little Peter Jerz is fine! Best wishes to him of course!

  25. Yes lets make sure children never have to learn lessons about loss or any other lessons of life. There is nothing wrong with letting your child be upset about something and have him work through it. It is part of the growing process. But if you try to protect him from everything and teach him that the world is a place that should never hurt and always be just then you are going to end up with a disfunctional idiot for a son.

  26. Thanks for your comment, AmericasSwtHeart! I’m sure my son will be happy to know his efforts are helping children and metaballs everywhere. “Metaballs” … that was a typo, but I like it.

  27. My son and I were eating spaghetti tonight and I remembered the “meatball song” but I couldn’t think up the words. So after dinner my son asked me if I had remembered them yet, which I hadn’t, so I suggested we get online and do a search. After all, you find ANY-thing on the internet right? *lol* That is when I came across your site. I have to say, I could not stop laughing! OMG that was so funny. Its amazing how we analyze things as children that are so easily dismissed by adults. That was entirely too cute! In the version we used to sing the song it ended with the meatball rolling under the bush, into mush and then growing into a meatball tree with sauce too, but it also made me think of something else as a child that made me have to stop and laugh. I remember growing up watching The Flintstones. Then the first time I went bowling and I refused to put my fingers in the lil holes because I was terrified that I would get them stuck in there and go flying down the lane like Fred Flinstone. *lol* And you know, even sometimes as an adult when I go bowling, I still get that feeling of what if? *lol* Thank you for sharing your story and I hope that next time you eat spaghetti that someone closes the door…just in case! *LOL*

  28. Nice to hear from you, Peter. What’s the origin of your name? I’m of Polish descent — my grandfather told me our family name used to be “Jez”. But I’ve had German acquaintances pronounce it as if it rhymes with “Herz,” (to English-speaking ears, “hairtz”), so I wondered if they were familiar with a variant of the name somehow.

  29. All right, so I just found this entry and could not pass up an opportunity to share a memory. Honestly, I only know that song because I once heard it on a children’s sing-a-long commercial selling songs on cassette tapes when I was younger. Most of my childhood consisted of listening to oldies music, watching TransFormers, and reading comic books (partial to Superman). How different things might be had I taken more interest in Music class…

  30. Ah, Rosemary. I know you. You know me. I’m sitting on top of Dad’s lap. And I’m Peter. I want to talk to you about the meatball song. It makes me cry, cause I wish the boy would have aten it instead of making it mush. It’s all his fault for sneezing at it. His nose had a green targeting box. And it should have been blue. If it’s blue, it’s not pointing at what you’re targeting. The second time Mom sang the song to me, I burst into tears. While Dad put “full crying”, I really did burst into full crying when I heard the song. I got distracted by The Wiggles, and there were commercials blocking The Wiggles. The Wiggles’ names are Anthony, Murray, Jeff, and Greg. Greg is the lead singer. All the rest of the Wiggles do not always sing the same words. I have three movies of The Wiggles. One of them sounded bad, so we had to get a new same one. I mean, it sounded better, and it was the same movie. Have you watched The Wiggles?

  31. Julie Y, I think that one is kind of in the middle. For of the peanut and the meatball. The peanut song is about a boy who got a tummy ache, died, went to heaven, kicked an angel, and went the other way. The other way of heaven is hell. I really would love to go to heaven. Right now, I am only five and a half, and I’m a young boy. I’m sitting on my father’s lap. This is January the 6th. If you were at my house, and looking out the window, you would see it’s nighttime. And the year is 2004. The meatball story makes me cry when I hear it. I put a song that sounds better to me on the Internet. Actually, I told Daddy to put it on. If only you can find that on your computer, you might be able to read it to yourself. You can read it out loud, or you can read with your mind.

  32. Susan, I felt different about the story of the meatball. I felt sad for the meatball. If only the boy could have sneezed before he got it on his meatball. Or if the front door was closed, it might not have rolled out. The second time of the night when Mom sang the song to me, I burst into tears. She didn’t mean to make me cry. Still thinking about it, I got a little bit distracted from The Wiggles. And Mom tried to distract me. I knew what I meant. But didn’t know what I was going to say. Instead of saying “meatball”, I said “peanut”. Then I said the right word, “meatball.” Since of the boy who kicked an angel, he went to hell. Thrown out of heaven, and probably passed purgatory.

  33. Yes, Will. Did you burst into full crying like I did? I am sure that meatball wouldn’t have rolled out the door if the door was closed. And if only the boy sneezed at the floor. But there’s something wrong with that too. What if someone slips in his snot. The meatball had nourishment for his muscles. What if he had any nourishment for his bones? Nourishment for muscles is called protein. Nourishment for bones is called calcium. I felt the same way about that meatball. If only the boy could have sneezed in a Kleenex it would have been better than sneezing at the floor.

  34. Amanda, there is nothing wrong with living in a shoe. I’m not so sure if the rhyme in my book with the Guess and Show pen with invisible ink had different words of the lady in the shoe. And I was sure she did know what to do. But in the book, she doesn’t know what to do.

  35. Tom Glazer who wrote the meatball song died February 21, 2003 and in this interview said: You know I have a fantasy that I’m standing in line before the Pearly Gates in the musicians’ line, in which I stand last. When I’m asked what have I done in music and I say I wrote “On Top Of Spaghetti”, I’m told, “Sorry, buster, you can’t enter.”

  36. I remember in kindergarten being traumatized by a song that went something like “I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor.” The song had the snake first eating your feet, then your knees, legs, waist, arms, mouth, and (in a final hummed stanza) apparently your head.

    I recall at one point telling the teacher that I didn’t like it, at which point she called some other teacher in from the hallway and led the whole class in singing it, while I put my hands over my ears and tried to hum something else to drown it out.

  37. Wait until he hears the “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly / I don’t know why she swallowed a fly / perhaps she’ll die” song. That’s nourishment gone wrong in a children’s song…

  38. I think I heard that when I was older–about eight or so, so it wouldn’t have the same effect, but your son shows incredible sensitivity and his creativity as a response to the bit of emotional trauma was a wonderful process to consider towards seeking a solution for himself.

  39. My wife says she had never heard the part about how the meatball mush “early next summer /
    grew into a tree. / The tree was all covered / with beautiful moss / it grew lovely meatballs / and tomato sauce.” I think the proper ending might have helped Peter accept the story, but it’s too late for that now! ;)

  40. I never did like that song either.
    I have always felt a little bit leery about “The Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe”. Too many kids and all that foot odor would really put a damper on the quality of living. Did they ever think of that? That Mother Goose…I worry sometimes about her too.
    Happy to see that Peter can be creative and write his own rendition. And don’t tell him about Mother Hubbard.

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