When my first child was a baby, I discovered story times, singalong songs, toddler games that were favorites at daytime library events. I sang along to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” made exaggerated gestures for “The Itsy Bitsy Spider, ” and faked it through “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (any mom who was actually doing all that moving was just showing off. I mean, really).
But the one song that surprised me was “The Wheels on the Bus.” The number and order of the verses were not always the same, but there was usually a horn going “beep beep beep” and wipers going “swish swish swish.” And on those cds with voices of cheerful children, played in bright clean libraries where mostly white moms danced with their squealing toddlers, the mamas on the bus say “sh-sh-shhhh, sh-sh-shhhh, sh-sh-shhhh.” This was something new to me. For, as I learned it in the schoolyards and playgrounds of Memphis, Tennessee, where I grew up, the mamas on the bus say, “Hush yo’ mouth!, Hush yo’ mouth! Hush yo’ mouth!” So, after over 20 years of that song ending with harsh, scolding mothers, I learned that there is a whole segment of the population who learned that song with comforting soothing mothers, shushing their crying babies so that the song could very well end as a lullaby. Wow.
Before I get into a whole rant about race and parenting practices, I need to know, when you learned this song as a child, what did your mamas on the bus say?