Family Traditions

Who doesn’t love traditions? They are an important part of the family unit.

Tonight I was invited to Shrove Tuesday dinner with my son and his family. Celebrating Shrove Tuesday with home-made pasta, braciole, pork, and meatballs is a tradition we’ve carried on from my childhood. In recent years, I’ve been unable to host dinner. I was happy that my son and his wife decided to make the traditional dinner this evening and happily joined them.

After dinner I played with the kids. I love all my grandchildren madly. I rarely miss an opportunity to visit. I offered to take my grandson up to bed and rocked him to sleep, a practice grandparents love. While we rocked, I sang my family’s version of “See Saw Margery Daw.”  I think our “See Saw” qualifies as a family tradition.

Have you ever heard the nursery rhyme, “See Saw Margery Daw?” The rhyme first appeared in its modern form in Mother Goose’s Melody, published in London in around 1765. (source:

A common modern version of the lyrics go:

See Saw Margery Daw,
Jacky shall have a new master;
Jacky shall earn but a penny a day,
Because he can’t work any faster.

I can imagine parents and grandparents down through the generations singing this little song to their children and grandchildren.

My family has sung “See Saw” to our littlest ones for years and years. That’s where the similarity ends. My family’s version is nothing like the original, except (I think) for the sing-song melody. I’m not sure when it began, but I remember hearing my grandparents sing it to me. Of course, it wasn’t always easy to understand their “broken English,” which was more Italian than English.

I remember my Dad singing it to us and to his grandchildren. I sang it to my son when he was a baby. I’ve sung it to each of my grandchildren and plan to continue the tradition. My sister sang it to her kids and now she sings it to her grandson. I’ve sung it to just about every baby I’ve cared for since I was an adult.

There is a proscribed method of singing the rhyme. First, you must have the little one stand on your thighs as you sit in a chair. Some of them will stand stiffly, not bending their knees. This posture makes for the best “rocking” motion. Some little ones don’t want to stand stiffly, so their little legs might buckle to the point where it’s easier to sit them on your lap. You grasp their extended arms by holding their hands and, as you sing, you rock them back and forth.

I cannot say with certainty that the words I sing are the same my grandparents and parents sang. I know that I am close enough so that I haven’t changed the original intent or meaning. Here is a portion of our version of “See Saw:”

See Saw knock at the door,
Who’s there, Grandpa,
What do you want, a bottle of beer,
Where’s your money, in my pocket,
Where’s your pocket, in my pants…..

It goes on for a few more lines and ends with a rousing, “Hurry up and go and get it!” at which point there is usually laughter and a tiny voice that says, “again!” Unless, of course, I am using the quiet style for lulling them to sleep. When that happens, we are usually in a rocking chair and I am snuggling with them as they drift off.

And, should you think that only the grown-up has a singing part, you are incorrect. My grandchildren  typically are able to recite most of the song as toddlers. One of my granddaughters has been singing the song in its entirety since she was two!

I suppose you could say that my family’s version is just as nonsensical as the original. Nursery rhymes usually are. And, it really doesn’t matter how it sounds to the world, it only matters how it sounds to us. It only matters that it brings laughter and happiness. “See Saw” has been a  family tradition for four generations. It’s a wonderful little family tradition. A tradition I hope continues for the next four generations.

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7 Responses to Family Traditions

  1. Do says:

    But of course when I sing it to Joey, it’s “a bottle of milk”!!!

  2. Valerie Steverson says:

    My grandpa sang it to me, but it ended with “Get out of here you drunkin man”.

  3. Roberta says:

    This is the way my grandpa and my mom sang it to me! I always thought they were the original words until learning yet another set of words (not the original) from my school’s music teacher. Our family’s last lines went “Where’s your money?” “In my pocket”, “Where’s your picket?”, “In my pants,” “Where’s your pants?”, “I left them home!” “Sorry Grandpa, no drink today!”\

    I also changed beer to milk! Thanks for publishing this. Gave me a smile!

  4. Jean-Claude says:

    See saw, Margery Daw
    Who’s there? Grandpa.
    Whaddaya want? A bottle of beer.
    Where’s your money? In my pocket.
    Where’s your pocket? In my pants.
    Where’s your pants? I left ’em home.
    Get outta here, ya drunken bum!

  5. Kristin says:

    My grandfather used to sing this to me every day (also Italian)! And he would end it with “Get out of here, you dirty son of a gun”.

  6. I was wondering who else sang this song. We always ended with “Where are your pants?”/”I left them home.”?”Get outta here you drunken bum!” My wife thinks I’m crazy for singing it to the kids. I never thought to change it to “milk.”

  7. Hawaii dave says:

    See saw margery daw was part of my childhood and passed on to my kids. But our version went…wheres ur money? In my pocket, whetes ur pocket? In my pants. Wheres ur pants? In the closet. Wheres the closet? Up the stairs……and on and on…..throught the street, town, state, county….on and on till iniverse. It will go on in our family.

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