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A toast to momisms

May 4, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

In celebration of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to honor the warmth and wisdom that mothers pass down to their children in the form of “momisms.”

I consulted some friends and compiled the following informal list of momisms.

During this process, I learned a couple of things.

The first thing I learned was that many momisms are nearly universal.

The second thing I learned is that it is a wonder any of us turn out to be normal, well-balanced citizens, considering the bizarre things our mothers say.

Not surprisingly, many momisms have to do with protecting children from harm or preventing unacceptable behavior.

One of my favorite momisms was:

• “Don’t let me catch you doing that again.”

I considered this good advice, and I never got caught for the same offense twice.

That does not mean I never committed the same offense more than once, it just means I got smarter after getting busted the first time.

• “Stop it or someone’s going to get hurt.”

One contributor observed that when her mother uttered these words, it almost guaranteed that someone would get hurt, almost as if the words invited injury, even in situations where said injury would never have occurred otherwise.

Some mothers would make excellent triage workers. They can assess one’s injuries without even looking up from what they are doing, and issue a prognosis.

• “You’ll be fine.”

You might be bleeding or have broken bones sticking out of your skin, but some moms don’t tolerate over-reactions.

• “If your friends jumped off a cliff (or bridge), would you jump too?”

This one was almost universal. Many of us have discovered that the question was a rhetorical one.

Some mothers adopt negative reinforcement to modify the behavior of their offspring.

• “Get your hand off that, or you’ll pull back a bloody stump.”

Yikes, there’s an image one won’t soon forget. The woman who contributed that one did not indicate if she has used it with her own children.

Another potentially violent threat was:

• “Wipe that smile off your face, or I’ll wipe it off for you.”

Then, is this classic:

• “Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about!”

Some mothers prefer a more subtle approach, leaving it up to the child’s imagination as to what the consequences might be:

• “Don’t make me come in there” or “Don’t make me tell you again.”

• “Don’t cross your eyes or they will get stuck that way.”

It is not clear if there is any medical evidence to support this threat.

• “Sit (or stand) up straight or you will turn into a hunchback.”

Moms are experts, not only in medicine, but in hygiene.

• “There’s enough dirt in your ears to grow potatoes.”

We’d probably have to consult a horticulturalist to confirm exactly how much dirt is required for the growing of potatoes.

• “Always wear clean underwear in case you are involved in an accident.”

If I get hit by a bus and my injuries are sufficient to warrant a trip to the hospital, the last thing I will be worrying about is the state of my unmentionables.

Who among us has not experienced the horror of a mother grabbing us as we were about to walk out the door and wiping a smudge off of our face with a smelly old dish rag, or, worse yet, by spitting on her fingers and rubbing till it felt like she was rubbing the hide off of us?

Despite the fact that mothers are rumored to know everything that goes on in a house, they can be distinctly unhelpful when one asks for help finding something.

• “Where did you leave it?” or “Where did you see it last?”

If we knew that, we wouldn’t be looking for the item.

• “If I come and find that thing in exactly the place I told you to look for it, I get to hit you.”

Mom’s have their own take on economics, as well.

• “I could get that at a garage sale for a quarter.”

One of my consultants said this was her frugal mother’s response any time she wanted something in a store.

• “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Those happy hours spent around the dinner table provide a wealth of momisms.

• “Clean your plate. There are children starving in Africa (or insert China, India, etc.).

Most moms apparently do not find “Well, send this swill to them then” to be an acceptable response.

• “Eat it, it will put hair on your chest.”

It is not clear if this advice can be used with girls.

• “Eat the crust/peel. That’s where all the vitamins are.”

Then, there are some miscellaneous momisms:

• “You’re in my light.”

• “How can you sleep in an unmade bed?” (Huh?)

• “Don’t get smart with me.”

• “Them what burns it, cleans it.”

• “Life isn’t fair.”

No argument about that one.

• “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

• “You’ll thank me some day.”

This last momism was a classic response to explain why we had to do a whole range of things we didn’t want to do.

Perhaps, in this case, our mothers were right.