I've always despised violent nursery rhymes for small children. Humpty Dumpty falls down and irreparably breaks into pieces, everyone falls down from the plague at the end of "Ring around the Rosies", London Bridge is destroyed, Mary Contrary's garden is filled with torture devices, Jack and Jill break their heads while falling down the hill...gruesome stuff. It used to make me shiver with protective indignation. Such stuff seemed wildly inappropriate for such innocent little people.
Then, my children became old enough for me to realize that there are some annoying traditions I cannot protect them from. Trying to keep them from absorbing those crazy poems (which mostly originated as political statements) is like trying to keep candy a secret from them. :OP They catch things from our culture that I wish I could simply disappear by waving my magic mommy hands and Avada Kadavra! But, in reality, it's simply not possible, much to my annoyance.
Anyhow, I've found that most of the creepiness goes right over the head of a child under, say 4, and once that age is reached, they get a chance to process their newly found understanding of permanent damage and death in form of a silly game or rhyme. It's not all terrible. If they don't have gory songs to sing already, they'll make up songs and stories themselves.
Case in point: Mirth tells us a bedtime story right before bed...
"Once upon a time, there was a team with a mascot. They were (thinking hard with nose wrinkled) the Northeast Bears. Yes. They were bears that lived in the Northeast. They EAT people who live in the Northeast. All the northeast people were dead. The people got scared and SHOT the Northeast bears. Then, they were dead. :) And the team didn't have a mascot. The end."
I suggested the "Northeast Goldfish", and Mirth agreed that fish were a better idea. "They just swim in a fishbowl all day, doing nothing but swimming. Goldfish don't eat people."
Suddenly, Humpty Dumpty seems tame.
And, true to form, she generally finds a way to redeem the characters in her fantasies. She's the eternal relational optimist, and loves to bring peace and solutions to tricky situations, as a way of bringing peaceful, safe feelings to her own mind about the subject. I love it about her. I love it about that age. She'll have years to grapple with the realities of life, but in this moment, she embraces fantasy, the magical and the terrible.
She explores the fantastic with gusto and ease, and fleshes out every possibility, from extraordinary peace to dismemberment, without a bat of an eye. It's constant. A character might die and be resurrected five times within a day, and she uses her magic words to change their fate, which is as capricious as a fairy tale.
Yesterday: "This is my little brother Jack (pssst! Mom! It's REALLY just N'omi, don't worry!) and I'm the sister Jill. But we don't ONLY go up the hill to fetch pails of water. Sometimes, we feed BEARS, too. They're not scary. They're sick. We put them into bed, and feed them soup. We make them scarves. See? They live in shoes. They hibernate there and eat fried corn. They're friendly bears."
And, in Mirth's world of bright eyed wonder, everyone gets to live happily ever after. Or not. ;)