I wasn’t a dumb child, though after reading this you will be convinced that I was. From what I am told I was actually quite bright though little evidence of such promise remains. In any case now that I have children of my own (gasp! a male blogger talking about his kids! and not solely to emphasize the number of them?) I am realizing that there were all sorts of things that I was missing. They just didn’t click. I’m not talking about reading Where the Wild Things Are and understanding it to be a silly story about a dream rather than a temple text with a deep and meaningful poetic structure, though I plan on talking even more about children’s books another post. I mean really simple things. Like the meaning of Primary Songs.

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This was made clear to me while listening to our three year old sing. As part of his ever expanding bedtime routine he now gets to sing a song after saying his prayers. Recently he has been singing either I Am a Child of God or Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam. Sometimes we sing Fruit Salad. Listening to him sing the words of I Am a Child of God is what caused a realization that for many of the words he is simply singing the sounds without having any idea what it is he is saying. For example, “Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.” He has no concept not only of what that means but even of what the individual words he is singing are. Earthly? Dear? Mere sounds he is making.

Listening to him I was reminded of my own primary experience sitting on the yellow benches of the Centerville 1st Ward Primary room. I didn’t care much for singing, possible because I was terrible at it, but I made a good faith effort at it and wasn’t intentionally ignoring the chorister or anything. I knew all the primary songs, but looking back, I was missing out at least some of what they were trying to teach me. In fact, for many of the songs I’ve only understood them now as I’ve heard him singing them and I’ve reflected on my own experience with them. For example:

Give Said the Little Stream
This one I knew all the words to, but as far as I was concerned it was a nonsense song.
“‘Give,’ said the little stream.”
Streams don’t talk.
“Singing, singing all the way”
Nor do they have any discernible happy attitude.
“I’m small I know…”
They certainly aren’t self aware.

Add to this the fact that the nearest stream was dry most of the time and wasn’t making anything green. The only times I remember much water coming down it were in 1983 and 1984 when it became a raging river and flooded several houses down the street. “Give oh give away!” indeed.

I didn’t make the connection that the song is about having charity and being cheerful at all.

Love One Another
I think I got most of this, but some of the words escaped me. I distinctly remember interpreting the phrase, “by this shall man (or is it men? I still have no idea) know ye are…” as “buy this shalmannow”. A “shalmannow”, I determined from the context, was an external indicator of sorts, like a CTR ring, that you needed to be a disciple. This one confused me for years.

Popcorn Popping
I never made the connection that apricott blossoms look like popcorn. I thought this was another nonsense song about an imaginary tree that made imaginary popcorn. Ok, it is a nonsense song, but it made even less sense to me than it should have. Primary leaders probably even tried to explain this one, but I didn’t get it.

Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam and I Am Like a Star
I completely failed to grasp that a Sunbeam is a good or happy influence, meant to bring joy. I think I took it too literally because I was very disturbed that the Star song was for the kids that were a year or two older than the Sunbeams, yet there were being compared to mere stars while the younger kids were compared to the Sun. It seemed very backwards to me since the Sun is obviously bigger than the Stars. Add to this the whole Sun, Moon, and Stars three degress of glory stuff and perhaps you can see why I was missing out here. Finally considering that the fact that I was usually quite concerned with whether we were going to be allowed to really get into the “sunBEAM” part and I think my confusion here is forgivable.

Primary Colors
A few problems here. First, these colors are literally the primary colors, and I knew that. As in you can mix them to create the other colors. At least you can with paint. It doesn’t work with light. But all that is a subject for art class in elementary school, so why are we singing about them here? Then I didn’t understand that a color could have a meaning beyond being a color. “Red is for courage,” um, why? Finally, I had no idea what a “creed” is.

I Hope They Call Me On a Mission
This song was way too vague. First off, who is “they” that is doing the calling? Secondly, why do I have to hope? Is it like a lottery, and you have to be lucky? I didn’t get it, and looking back at it not only did it not make proper sense to me, but it really didn’t make me want to go on a mission.

Pioneer Children Sang as they Walked
“Week after week they sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked” I could never resolve the contradiction of the supposed message of the song that pioneer children were happy and singing with the fact that the song itself is pretty dreary and the activity being described is doubly so. “Pioneer Children Had Sore Feet” was what I was thinking. Maybe I wasn’t as confused about this one as the others.

Saturday is a Special Day
Um, yeah, because we get to have fun on Saturday. If we spent it all working and shampooing our hair like the song suggests then we wouldn’t have any fun on Saturday or Sunday. I think I actually understood this song, I just rejected the message.

I could go on. Either by misunderstanding the lyrics or taking a song too literally I think I missed out on the meaning of about 50% of what I sang in Primary. Some of you have probably diagnosed me with a particular mental defect at this point. If you have please share… Another possibility is that while these songs are written for children to sing they weren’t really written with children in mind. Instead some adult needed to rhyme with “deed” and decided to insert “creed” without regard to whether little minds would digest it.

How about you? When you look back on your childhood do you see a gaggle of misunderstandings? The odd thing to me is that at the time I never thought to ask my parents about all this stuff. I just assumed that I was understanding what I was supposed to. The idea that I was way off base never occurred to me. Prideful little kid that I was…

I wonder if it is worth trying to help my own children avoid similar pitfalls. I certainly don’t want them to think that they need to purchase a shalmannow, but there doesn’t seem to be much harm in misunderstanding most primary songs if you are in fact understanding the basic ideas such as that Jesus loves you and you should be nice to other people. By the way, I think that I did understand those messages.

I’m sure I’ll someday look back on this current phase of my life with a smile as well, laughing at all that I didn’t understand at this point.