Inky Binky Bonky. Daddy had a donkey.
Daddy died. Donkey cried.
Inky Binky Bonky.
That has been in my head for around a decade now. My daughter, then still a tiny incarnation of the kid that I know now, told me that rhyme. I remember it bouncing from her mouth with each syllable. I was perplexed.
Doesn’t it make more sense if the donkey died and Daddy cried?
That’s the poem, Daddy.
I hate this poem.
Inky Binky Bonky…
When you’re a parent, you’re introduced to a world of songs and rhymes meant to captivate children. They do this through repetition and catchy tunes. It’s the same formula that sticks all the best hits of the 80s, 90s, and today in your brain. Do you see the problem?
While you might be able to relate my running playlist of lollipop drums, you need to understand something. My exposure to this music and melody is longer than the average shelf life for parents. I am a case study. I am a lifer.
Basically, my daughter came along just as Obama took office and, with her, came all the tunes. There were Wiggles, Raffi, Elmo, and Laurie Berkner Band. Yo Gabba Gabba was a big one too, but they died out. The other four remain.
They remain in a bigger way than you might realize because, just as she was rounding three, her brother was born. He inherited her video collection and, with that, the cycle continued until…
No until. Still. It’s still continuing.
Lucas is non-verbal with autism and his tastes in entertainment remained mostly the same over time. Not just that, but there’s little to no variety in his title choices. He likes specific Sesame Streets and certain Raffi concerts. Put on the wrong one and you might as well put on the news in Spanish. He’s out of there. Because of this, I have been watching and listening to the same videos with the same songs for almost 15 years. It will likely continue indefinitely.
Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco have been making a burrito with tobacco since my hair was still mostly brown. Fruit Salad has been yummy yummy forever and Baby Beluga is a little white whale on the go. It all lives here in my brain, poking and prodding me daily.
Of course, I make up my own words to many of these songs, and they’re all terrible. How else would one survive hearing Elmo sing about “Pride” with the Goo-Goo Dolls for eternity? The part where he talks about reaching the highest shelf and wanting to do it himself turns into a dirty limerick about what he would do to an elf. It’s bizarre but I figured my brain needs to do it to keep sane. The purpose is to remind me that I am a full-grown person and not a child.
After all, I’m the same guy who, at an old job, asked the grizzled mechanic if he could move the tools so I could get by and “go to the potty.” If you don’t dirty it up a bit internally, you morph into Mr. Rogers. That’s how it happens.
The good part about these earworm nightmares is that the kids remember them too. For my son, singing one of his favorite songs can stop the world. As a child normally obsessed with screens and swipes, he stops to listen to songs and stories. It always puts a smile on my face and, truth be told, it’s usually my favorite moment of the day.
Songs are also the few things that Lucas shows a passion for. He knows to clap when he’s supposed to clap or even improvise. During a song by Raffi, there’s a part where the crowd says “boing boing” upon the mention of a bouncing ball. We have been singing this song forever.
Last week, Lucas started doing this full body bop when the “boing boing” part comes around. It was new and I was so proud of him. It made me appreciate the power that these tunes have. Whether it’s the motions of Raffi’s “Brush Your Teeth” or If You’re Happy And You Know It, there’s a power behind music as it relates to my son’s autism.
It’s not just about autism though. My daughter remembers them too. If you have an older child and doubt me, try it. Next time you are sitting at the table, just start singing something that was a big household hit many years ago. Watch the face.
There’s a party in my tummy! So yummy! So yummy! There’s a party in my tummy! So yummy! So yummy! Do carrots want to go to the party in… Can I help you? Why are you staring?
What are you singing?
You know damn well what I am singing.
When you have a teenager, moments like that are tough to come by. Of course, she remembers this stuff, we’re all kids at heart. I still have that terrifying Sesame Street “Milk” song in my head from 1980. Good, bad, happy, sad – that stuff sticks.
My son taught me that words are overrated. Music, however, is a whole different story. Our family has a soundtrack and no matter how old they get, our lives will always be a kid’s show.