Young Johnny was always a good little child,
Not prone to be lazy or spiteful or wild,
Occasionally naughty but generally nice,
And yet, for his parents, this didn’t suffice.
They didn’t want average. They wanted the best.
They wanted their son to outshine all the rest,
With model behaviour at all times of day,
To never ask questions but simply obey.
To get the right manners and morals engrained,
Poor Johnny was sat and intensively trained
To always say thank you, not once forget please,
To dot all his i’s and to cross all his t’s.
He gradually grew so extremely polite,
Wherever he went, people swooned with delight:
Exceptional etiquette in one so young!
His parents were pleased at how well they had done.
When there was no more they could reasonably ask,
When Johnny excelled at their every task,
They started to make quite outlandish requests,
Quite pointless except as obedience tests.
(For instance, to somersault all through the town,
To read back to front and to write upside down,
To stand on one leg before starting to speak…
Their onerous orders got worse every week!)
Their son bravely bore this as well as he could,
But, sadly for him, was becoming too good.
You see, when a child tries to be good as gold,
Unthinkingly doing whatever they’re told
With no understanding of why it must be,
Then this can unravel spectacularly.
For, sooner or later, the terrible strain
Of being too good overwhelms their young brain.
And, likewise with Johnny, the pressure just spread
‘Til suddenly something went snap! in his head.
And, kissing goodbye his refined moral code,
He found repressed rudeness at once overflowed,
A change he appeared to adjust to with ease:
He wouldn’t say thank you, he never said please,
His manners, once polished, were cause for dismay:
He screamed and he fought ‘til he got his own way.
His parents tried everything: punishment, treats,
Logic and bartering, bribing with sweets…
How they would desperately wheedle and plead!
Johnny delighted in taking no heed.
And well may you wonder how Johnny turned out:
Was he filled with remorse or a hint of self-doubt?
Did he quickly revert to his well-behaved ways?
Indeed not. He lived life ‘til the end of his days
A rotter and scoundrel, a trickster and crook,
Which shows you that grown-ups should not overlook
How children don’t want to just blithely obey,
Whatever the whims of the adults that day.
The least they deserve, if they’re asked to comply,
Is a plausible reason to justify why.
Let’s hope that those grown-ups reflect on our friend…
And children, be good but not too good.
Claire Schlinkert started writing poems for children shortly after her first son was born, around five years ago. Now, with three young boys in the house, there is no shortage of inspiration!
“I wrote this poem on the course To Sea in a Sieve: Writing Poems for Children, tutored by Rachel Piercey. I love writing cautionary tales, so had great fun with the assignment!”