If you don't stop crying your head will fall off and laugh at you
May 13, 2018 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Being a mom is a tough job, in large part because you just can’t reason with small children. What you can do, however, is lie to them. In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to send us the most outlandish white lies their mothers ever told them. As it turns out, moms all over the world are telling some wonderfully inventive lies.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (109 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ok, now I am going to have to ask all my friends who are Iowans whether they heard that eating the crusts of bread would make their hair curly. That one seems to be exclusive to Iowa and the UK.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:34 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Iowan here, and yes.
posted by BrashTech at 8:52 AM on May 13


I definitely remembered hearing that bread crusts were good for me, but I don’t remember how.

I was surprised to see that my favorite widespread lie to kids (“that song means that the ice cream man is all out of ice cream!”) doesn’t figure here. I didn’t hear it myself, because for some reason my town didn’t have ice cream trucks.

What I mostly heard were medical jokes or exaggerations that went over my head and scared me. I came from a medical family, so I would hear that, say, if I was really sick I was going to have to go to the hospital and get a spinal tap. I did my best not to be sick then. The suggestion of a CBC also put me in line — those three letters! Also, I was told that children didn’t get headaches, and if I had one, I would need to go to the hospital for a brain scan. Bit of an overshoot on that one, I think; I believed it for years, and sometimes thought I might be secretly dramatically dying, so I sulked when an Advil would have done.

I’m not sure the mothers were lying about puddles and polio. IIRC, polio is transmitted through water contaminated by feces, and seventy years ago a mother would have been wise to tell children to stay away from dirty water for fear of polio.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:58 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


When I was itty bitty, my mom told me that I ate so many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I was going to turn into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I don't think this was a lie, exactly, because I don't think it occurred to her that I would take it literally, but I remember being really freaked out by it. I definitely did not want to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:01 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


My mother told us that all the vitamins were in the bread crust, the apple peel, the baked potato peel, etc. I believed this was true for an embarrassingly long time.
posted by BrashTech at 9:07 AM on May 13 [23 favorites]


“If you eat raw cookie dough you’ll get worms.”

I was told to stay away from raw dough products containing eggs, but otherwise, fair game. I’d sometimes make myself a bowl of eggless cookie dough. But I recently learned (and FDA confirms) that you shouldn’t eat anything containing raw flour, because it may contain E. coli!! Sometimes there is a glimmer of truth in intergenerational folk wisdom.
posted by mantecol at 9:07 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


i now want to pitch Netflix Kids on a procedural police pilot starring JOE SCHMOE THE BABY COP
posted by halation at 9:11 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


she never said it in so many words, but my mom did imply that life had meaning.
posted by philip-random at 9:17 AM on May 13 [44 favorites]


My wife is the most honest person I know, but she had our kids believing that Chucky Cheese was a doctor’s office until they were about 12.

She really hates Chucky Cheese.
posted by crumbly at 9:18 AM on May 13 [46 favorites]


Some of these are funny and cute. Others are downright horrifying.
posted by meese at 9:19 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


...wait? These aren't true???
posted by blob at 9:23 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I live by one rule with my kids: don't make them live in fear. So many of these (maybe) well-intentioned lies are just recapitulations of "live in fear" (of lying, of not doing what you're told) that can worm into brains and really affect risk taking and other later positive behaviors. It's the same thing I tell my religious family about the stories they tell my kids - love is love and keep your scary devil stories to yourself. Explain and enforce consequences in this world.

Chucky Cheese as a doctor's office, however, is harmless genius.
posted by abulafa at 9:24 AM on May 13 [29 favorites]


According to my mom, almost anything made your hair curly. Still does.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:29 AM on May 13


How does the Chucky Cheese one work if your kid gets invited to a birthday party there though?
posted by Wretch729 at 9:32 AM on May 13


My mom told me eating the bread crusts would make my hair curly. She also told my brother, who has curly hair, that eating the crust would make his hair straight. Come on, mom, did you think we weren't going to notice?
posted by peeedro at 9:34 AM on May 13


Anybody know what the story behind salting a birds tail is?
posted by Grandysaur at 10:01 AM on May 13


Stuck with me long enough that I was seriously concerned when I first saw cookie dough mixin ice cream. From mantecol's analysis, still concerned.
posted by sammyo at 10:07 AM on May 13


That “salt a bird’s tail to keep them busy” thing is pure genius.
posted by corb at 10:12 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


My mother told me that if I crossed my eyes one day they would get stuck and stay that way. I think I was in my late 30s when I realized it wasn't true.
posted by Killick at 10:27 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


My mother actually taught me how to cross my eyes. She was young, and later regretted it. But I recall one time I mentioned that I liked a song that she was singing. She told me she wrote it. It was a Beatles tune.
posted by Miss Cellania at 10:29 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


Mom told us that we couldn't have pets as kids because my Dad was "allergic" to cats and dogs.

I didn't make the connection until I was in my twenties, sitting in my cube at work.
posted by Sphinx at 10:42 AM on May 13


Anybody know what the story behind salting a birds tail is?

I don't, but I do know the idea's been around in British folklore for a long time. It's mentioned in Brewer's Phrase & Fable (first published in 1870) and some say it's a couple of centuries older than that. It appears in some versions of the nursery rhyme Simple Simon too, a poem which seems to have first appeared in 1675.

The verse is:
He went to catch a dickey bird,
And thought he could not fail,
Because he'd got a little salt,
To put upon his tail.

[Bear in mind that Simon is presented as being laughably stupid throughout the poem. The message would therefore seem to be that only idiots think this a good way of catching birds.]

Salt's the subject of all sorts of superstition, most commonly the one that spilling it brings bad luck. To ward this off, you have to throw a pinch over your left shoulder - which is where the Devil will be lurking to do you harm. I assume it's supposed to go in his eyes and blind the old bugger long enough for you to escape.
posted by Paul Slade at 10:44 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


As a follow-on to Paul Slades nugget, here's an old ad for Cerebos salt (scroll down a little).
posted by HarrysDad at 10:56 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


eating the crusts of bread would make their hair curly.

The relatives on my mother's side of the family are from rural Tennessee, and I heard that phrase used by a few of them when I was young.

That, and "eating broccoli puts color in your cheeks" - but who wants green cheeks?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:56 AM on May 13


There's a Swedish folktale about a boy who tries to catch a magpie by sprinkling salt on its tail (the magpie, unsurprisingly, outwits him). Magpies have quite long tails, perhaps suggesting the idea of weighting them down somehow to impede their flight?

There's something similarly silly in Herodotus about catching crocodiles by throwing mud in their eyes; I wonder if salting birds' tails is a similarly misunderstood interpretation of a hunting practice, maybe something to do with using bird-lime.
posted by halation at 11:01 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I told my kids that I was a certified witch. The main proof was that the only way to make our food processor work was with a magic wand. The thing was that it was broken and I needed a chopstick to get it going. Also, I could read their minds, which never failed to surprise them.
I also told them that the burgers at McD's were made by processing a whole cow, bones and hair and all in a giant blender, and it worked for ages, they would always say no thanks to the nice aunties or school friends who invited them there.
My mother mainly told mean and spooky lies, but there is one I've used as well: if you don't have bread with your eggs, you'll get mice in your tummy. My now adult children often cite it and always adhere to it.
posted by mumimor at 11:15 AM on May 13 [8 favorites]


What was in Niki Cotton's basement freezer???
posted by capricorn at 11:18 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I'm acrophobic, and it was much worse as a child. Our family took a trip to St. Louis, and my parents announced that we would end the trip with a visit to the Gateway Arch and go up in it. This prospect terrified me, and throughout the day, as I'd start to relax and enjoy the other attractions (the zoo, Busch Gardens, a Cards game), I'd catch a glimpse of the Arch on the horizon like a Martian war machine and feel the terror again. It only had two legs! It could fall over!

So, finally, we get to the Arch, and I refused to get out of the car. My mom, rest her soul, told me that they would leave me in the car by myself and that hippies (this was the very early seventies) would come and try to rob me and since I didn't have any money, they might kill me. I still wouldn't go. I can't remember which parent stayed with me, but they weren't very happy. (My acrophobia lessened to the point that I eventually did go up in the Arch as an adult, and the view is great, especially at night.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:27 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


“That a mean old man put gumball machines in stores to make little kids cry when their parents denied them the candy.”

I'm not so sure that one isn't true. It certainly seems true for other things they put at child's eye level in stores...
posted by BungaDunga at 11:31 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


If you play with fire, you will pee in the bed

This is two legs of the MacDonald triad:
The triad links cruelty to animals, obsession with fire-setting, and persistent bedwetting past a certain age, to violent behaviors, particularly homicidal behavior and sexually predatory behavior.[5] However, other studies claim to have not found statistically significant links between the triad and violent offenders.
Which was first published in 1963.
posted by jamjam at 11:41 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Is "All Pepsi is is just water and sugar" a white lie? Because my mom said that when I asked her for one, so little bright eyed me, instead of writing a song about how my mom wouldn't give me just one Pepsi, I thought -- OK!

Get water and pour sugar in and the inevitable, distinctly NOT Pepsi flavor.

"MOM YOU LIED TO ME!"

She had no idea I would take it literally.
posted by symbioid at 11:46 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


Growing up, one of my family friends would tell us kids that if we sat too close to the TV, our eyes would turn into twist-ties. I know that at the time it was commonly thought that sitting too close to the TV was bad for vision, but I have no idea why she chose that bizarre of a warning.
posted by Candleman at 12:01 PM on May 13


Twist(ed) Eyes? Cross eyed?
posted by symbioid at 12:03 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


How does the Chucky Cheese one work if your kid gets invited to a birthday party there though?
I presume you then explain to them the difference between Dr. Chucky Cheese, local physician specializing in vaccinations, and Chuck E. Cheese, murine videogame and pizza chain proprietor, and apologize to them for the confusion.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:18 PM on May 13 [13 favorites]


Anybody know what the story behind salting a birds tail is?

If you are close enough and fast enough to actually get salt on a bird's tail, you can grab it.
posted by pracowity at 12:24 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I love the fairy ones. As far as I can remember, the only partial truth I told my kids was that every times they learned something new they would get a freckle (both m and their father have lots of freckles and of course we are very wise). This was especially effective as all my children developed freckles around the tones they went to school.
posted by saucysault at 12:41 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


My mom fed us liver and told us it was steak. I love liver to this day.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:49 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


My kids believe my car has a speed limiter that won't let it go above 5 mph unless everyone's seatbelts are fastened. (It helps that it bings noisily if front-seat passengers don't buckle!)

They're not totally sure whether to believe me or not about the fact that their bed is a time machine and once they go to sleep I use an app on my phone to jump time for them forward for 8 hours. (I downloaded an app.) I invited them to DISPROVE it, which they have not yet been able to do, but they're pretty sure I'm lying.

Lately they keep asking me why I'm SO MEAN (for making them to go school, wear pants, etc.), and I've been telling them that in the packet of papers you have to fill out and sign to take the baby home from the hospital, there's one where you have to promise to be a mean parent. They saw their baby sister's gigantic packet of papers with a million forms, so they're currently debating whether the Mean Parent Agreement is a real thing or not.

The house we lived in when I was little had a "workman's toilet" in the basement under the stairs. My parents kept the door locked all the time so we wouldn't go in to the half-finished bathroom with the dangerous-to-children plumbing fixtures. Whenever I asked her what was in there, my mom told me it was an octopus and it would be rude to disturb him. It was such a let down when we moved out when I was nine and the movers opened the door and it was just a cruddy bathroom!

There is literally no point to having children if you're not going to mess with them!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:57 PM on May 13 [33 favorites]


My mother told us that all the vitamins were in the bread crust, the apple peel, the baked potato peel, etc. I believed this was true for an embarrassingly long time.
It's true for the potato peels and I wouldn't be surprised if it were true for apple peels as well. This comparison has it as containing about 80% of the potato's vitamin C, same for the B6, and just about 100% of the vitamin K and various other B vitamins.
posted by inconstant at 12:58 PM on May 13 [23 favorites]


I invited them to DISPROVE it, which they have not yet been able to do

Could easily be done by destroying your phone
posted by thelonius at 1:07 PM on May 13 [9 favorites]


I was surprised to see that my favorite widespread lie to kids (“that song means that the ice cream man is all out of ice cream!”) doesn’t figure here. I didn’t hear it myself, because for some reason my town didn’t have ice cream trucks.

Ah, see, my mom just told us that the "ice cream man" was the fish wagon.
posted by duffell at 1:09 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


For reasons known only to the Lord, my parents decided that the best vacations with their baby/toddler/young children (my sister and I are three years apart) should involve, like, 12-hour car drives on either end. To preserve their sanity, my mother told us that gremlins came the night before vacation started and left us presents. Cue Mom reaching into the footwell to regularly distribute dollar-store small toys throughout the epic journey, thus keeping me and my sister quiet. (Except for the time one of us got a My Little Pony and the other didn't. THAT was a mistake never made again.)

We won't discuss the advanced age I was when it occurred to me that gremlins, and well as the elves that took over our basement every December before Christmas, were not, in fact, real.
posted by kalimac at 1:10 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


My dad is from Michigan and I grew up with the despicable lie about crust making your hair curly. Naturally I have passed this on but my kids, who still believe in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny, don’t believe a word of it.

My wife and I are both doctors and my kids grew up believing we had an X-ray app on our phones. Any owie or skinned elbow brought out the phone.

“Let me take an X-ray and see if it’s bad”

*google image search horrific shattered elbow*

“Oh my god! It’s terrible, let’s get a band aid and some ice on that stat!”

This worked out really well calming tears until the day my son fell off the slide and really fractured his wrist which was pretty obvious when it happened. As he’s howling and slipping in and out of shock as we’re trying to get him to the ER, “Daddy can’t you just use your X-ray app and make me better?”

Hell of a time to figure out your parents have been playing mind games with you.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:46 PM on May 13 [34 favorites]


Not really about lying, but more about messing with your kids: one day I arrive at the play school and the teachers are grinning bordering on lolling. I ask how the day has been, and they tell me that today they have talked about what is not allowed at home with the kids. And there have been the usual responses, like stealing from the cookie jar, hitting ones baby sister, lying etc. Except for my beautiful little girl who said, at our house whining is not allowed. Hehe.
posted by mumimor at 1:54 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


I could lay an egg. I would sit there, checking behind me occasionally. Sure enough, after close to an hour, an egg would magically appear.

Wait, what??
posted by BlueHorse at 2:02 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


If we're at home, we nearly always watch the Channel 4 News (UK). So my kid developed this really strong affection for Jon Snow, the journalist (i.e no, not that one). And at the same time my kid hated vegetables, so in a moment of desperation, I told him that I was going to message Jon Snow about him eating his vegetables, and It Worked like a charm.

So now, every night following dinner, I have to text Jon Snow about how well Toddler has eaten his dinner, to make sure that he doesn't do "a report" on it.
posted by threetwentytwo at 2:17 PM on May 13 [32 favorites]


Victoria, Australia: fed the bread crust/hair curl lie. Wouldn't eat my crusts because I already had much hated curly hair. Mum did not think that one through.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:00 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


My mom told me there was a light on my forehead that only she could see, and that it glowed green when I told the truth, and red when I lied. I still have The Worst poker face.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:04 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


When I refused to take my afternoon nap, my mother would point out that “Jerry the Mouse” (not the cartoon one) who lived in our house needed his rest but for some reason would not lie down unless I did too. She even described a mysterious sun deck atop our home which I longed to see. Not only did this work like a charm (I would lie quietly lest I disturb him and sometimes even take an actual nap) but it set me up for a lifetime of being unable to harm mice. To this day I cannot trap or kill mice in my own home and have interceded on their behalf with our cats many times lest they somehow be related to my pal Jerry.
posted by kinnakeet at 3:15 PM on May 13 [9 favorites]


I have mixed feelings on parents messing with their kids. One time when I was really young, my mom pretended she had transformed into a monster with a scary voice. I begged the monster to give my mommy back, and it wouldn’t, for what seemed like an eternity to me. We were in the car and I was strapped into my seat, so I couldn’t even run and hide. Took me a long time to shake the negative feelings from that, if I ever did. Though maybe the real problem was that I never felt comfortable going to my parents (or anyone in my life) for emotional support in general, so I never found resolution for scary situations like that.
posted by mantecol at 3:16 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


My mother would tell me, "If you dont settle down I'm going to throw you away in the mountains!". I would look up at our nearby mountains in terror and they laughed and laughed. I didn't think it was a laughing matter at all! As an autistic child* I took nearly every turn of phrase literally. [*They did not know I was autistic until ~30 years later].
posted by RuvaBlue at 3:34 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


My mother mainly told mean and spooky lies, but there is one I've used as well: if you don't have bread with your eggs, you'll get mice in your tummy

I'm not actually convinced this is a lie? If I eat eggs and no carbs, I often get stomach cramps of a peculiar sort; the language may be poetic but the content in my experience is true!
posted by halation at 3:45 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


My dad was the one who told me certain foods would put hair on my chest. My mom only told me women had to suffer for beauty.
posted by emjaybee at 4:18 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I once told my daughter that at 8 o'clock I turned into a witch. That's why she had to go to bed at whatever-o'clock. In truth, I do kind of turn into a witch after 8. After 8, sweet mama has left the building. Go to bed, kid.

Anyway, one evening, when she was maybe four-years-old and being a total pill, I said, "Look, it's 8 o'clock and I'm going to turn into a witch!" And she started hysterically crying and going, "Noooo, pleeeeeaase don't turn into a witch! Pleeeaaasse!!!" I was like, "oh, hey, it's okay...but, uh, it's really time for bed, okay? I won't be a witch." Felt pretty bad about it.

I don't really lie to my kid though I think a lot of these are funny. You can just hear the exasperated parent in some of them. We do talk about fairies quite a bit and she has gotten notes from the fairies that seem pretty realistic to me. ;)
posted by amanda at 4:20 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Favorite line of my mother to say was in response to saying you wanted something (anything, really).

"I want an ice cream."

"Well, you can want in one hand and shit in the other."

My siblings and I never knew what it meant besides "You can't have it."

When I was in my 40s, I was out with my mother when she overheard someone saying they wanted something and, under her breath, she said, "Well, you can want in one hand and shit in the other. See which one fills up first."

I stopped dead in my tracks as the penny dropped. My mother seemed perplexed. "What?! You've heard me say that a million times."

"Um, not the second part."

"Well, I probably said it the first time and didn't see much point in wasting my time repeating it. Probably saved myself at least a decade by now," she said, and continued on through the mall.

When I told my sister she flipped the fuck out at the puzzle finally being solved.
posted by dobbs at 4:31 PM on May 13 [21 favorites]


"Playing with yourself will give you acne"...I didn't take that particular admonition very seriously at the time, though.

When I became a parent, my "messing with the kid's head" was minimal but strongly influenced by the dad's hijinks in the Calvin & Hobbes comics I'd read while still a non-parent. I think the only for-the-parents'-convenience lie we ever told was about the stuffed bear my sister once gave him that played Christmas tunes when you pressed one of his paws; for the sake of our own sanity we said there was no way to "fix" it when the batteries finally wore out. It took quite a while to forgive my sister for that "gift".
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:41 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]




My child is a born skeptic and will straight up tell you that the following things are not real and are in fact fiction (he's five): magic, fairies, cartoon characters, time travel, superheroes, and dragons. It makes it very difficult to lie to him. (But he'll defend Santa Claus's honor as a totally real person to his death, for some reason. Perhaps because it seems pretty plausible that recieving gifts is contingent upon belief.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:47 PM on May 13


Okay, let's try this again.

"There is literally no point to having children if you're not going to mess with them!"

I am really fucking horrified at anyone thinking this way. I was a child who hated being teased, hated being lied to, and literally some of the worst traumas of my entire life were discovering that adults had lied to me or made shit up. Children are people and you shouldn't fucking lie to people.
posted by adrienneleigh at 4:48 PM on May 13 [7 favorites]


We had an ongoing joke, well before kiddo, about throwing each other in a garbage can.

Turns out when you are much bigger than a child, that threat - regardless of joking tone - has some weight.

Also turns out that my kid is pretty confident that, at 8, she could take me down if I ever tried to put her in the bin because I pointed out that if I tried, and she didn't want to be in a bin, how would that end up? I was thinking "daddy won't let you do that" but she went straight to laughing and 'you wouldn't be able to'.

Which is rather reassuring to be honest. But we did have to explain the joke, and that we would never ever throw her in a bin, and we never smack in our house, and so on, and now she threatens US with the garbage can when we are annoying her.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:09 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Seriously, in what universe is it okay to lie to someone helpless just because it makes your life easier or amuses you?

Because the real reason why you need to eat your crust — it’s a pain in my ass to do this every fucking time when it’s totally fine for you to suck it up and eat your damn crust — is never ever going to settle an argument with a three year old who is capable of several *hours* of crying over meaningless shit.

(Note that I would never lie about something like what happened to the cat when she died)
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:47 PM on May 13 [11 favorites]


That, and "eating broccoli puts color in your cheeks" - but who wants green cheeks?
posted by Greg_Ace


Some conures.
posted by Splunge at 5:58 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Whenever we eat ice cream, my wife tells me that she invented it. We have a two-week-old baby, who will probably actually grow up to believe this. (If she's smart enough, she'll wonder why Mom isn't famous for having invented ice cream, and why don't we live in a fancier house? Clearly the inventor of ice cream should be rich beyond her wildest dreams.)
posted by madcaptenor at 6:02 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


"Because the real reason why you need to eat your crust — it’s a pain in my ass to do this every fucking time when it’s totally fine for you to suck it up and eat your damn crust — is never ever going to settle an argument with a three year old who is capable of several *hours* of crying over meaningless shit."

Okay, i mean, you're the one who decided to take responsibility for a whole-ass human being, and now you're gonna make it so they grow up believing fake wrong shit just so you don't have to cut the crusts off their sandwiches? HOW IS THAT NOT HORRIBLE?
posted by adrienneleigh at 6:18 PM on May 13


Not lying to your kids causes problems too. I agree with treating kids like people and being honest with them. Because of these Important Principles, I told my kids from the start that Santa Claus isn't real. But they believe their friends more than me, so they now argue with me and invent increasingly outlandish arguments to prove that Santa Claus is real: "Amy says Santa Claus is real!" "I saw on TV that Santa Claus is real!" "I went to the North Pole and visited Santa Claus!"

That's the thing about parenting: no matter what you do, you're fucked.
posted by medusa at 6:28 PM on May 13 [12 favorites]


Perhaps because it seems pretty plausible that recieving gifts is contingent upon belief.

Please get this child started on Terry Pratchett as soon as age-appropriate. I predict a match made in heaven.
posted by kalimac at 6:33 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


adrienneleigh - There are a dozen times a day that you need your child to do something, like eat that crust because it's good for their teeth, or conversely don't do something because it's bad and can make you sick or even, you know, be deadly.

The reason you have to lie is because two- and three-year-olds don't deal with logic. Around four or five the logic starts to kick in, but before that it's pointless to try to explain reasons. Three year olds brook no truck with reasons.

and now you're gonna make it so they grow up believing fake wrong shit just so you don't have to cut the crusts off their sandwiches?

If you cut the crusts off, whenever they go out into the world and eat bread that has the crust on, then the kid will have no ability to cope with that. Actually bread crust is a dumb example but the point of all this lying is you're conditioning the kid to behave in a certain way. Of course some people go past that into outright abuse, but there is simply no way even the best parents in the world--whoever they are--don't lie about the boogeyman to intentionally scare their kid about something they should or shouldn't do.
posted by zardoz at 6:43 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


When I worked at a toy store, sometimes we would get kids who had full-blown meltdowns because their parents wouldn’t buy them a particular toy right that very minute.

One dad tried to circumvent a meltdown by telling his kid that Santa would bring him the toy for Christmas. Kid was not having it, insisting that Santa wouldn’t know to bring it to him.

So I swooped in, and asked the dad, “Why don’t you take a picture of it with your phone and text it to Santa?”

Kid was shocked to learn that parents can do this. “Oh yes, all parents get Santa’s phone number when they have their first kid,” I assured him.

Dad took the picture. That lie prevented a lot of screaming in the action figure aisle, on numerous occasions, and I have zero regrets.
posted by nonasuch at 7:23 PM on May 13 [24 favorites]


but who wants green cheeks?

Some conures.


(a) They probably don't need to be cajoled into eating their vegetables; and (b) I have it on good authority that I am not a conure.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:26 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


My dad told me sincerely that he wanted to name me Bullwinkle but mom interceded. I believed this for an embarrassingly long time.

Apparently my dad used to like to lie about me to my mom as well. For example when she was out of the room when I was a baby and dad was playing with me, he’d call out “did you know the baby’s head can turn all the way around?” and freak my mom out.
posted by supercrayon at 7:39 PM on May 13 [16 favorites]


Maybe it is because my kid has master non-violent resistance to the point a friend joked that she'd give Gandhi 5 minutes before he lost his shit, but lying has never really gotten me through a difficult moment with my kid. It certainly has never really made her do anything she was refusing to do. Eating vegetables is good for you because your body needs a bunch of different nutrients and fibre, and this is the vegetable range we have for dinner tonight, if you don't like it you can help me work out which vegetables to buy at the store later but everybody needs to eat vegetables of some sort.

I mean, I had more of a problem with "please can I have a peanut butter sandwich" being a request for a peanut butter delivery method that left scraped clean bread products everywhere, so I just said 'here's a spoonful, go for it' and so on.

Having one child allows for a lot more flexibility on this stuff I think, I have the emotional space and energy to go for longterm solutions over short-term.

...I did have the 'exploding wardrobe' interaction this morning where 'put your clothes in the dresser' has been 'throw them on the floor of the wardrobe, jam the door shut, and read' which then led to frantic scrambling for a jacket at the last minute and yeah, we had a talk about that AND lying, it isn't like I am perfect. But I'm not making up some angry wardrobe fairy or NSA level spy ring for Santa in order to get my kid to put her clothes in a space that makes sense.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:22 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I’d rather spend less serious reasoning time arguing about broccoli and more time on “why the ‘N word’ is not ok to use” and why guns are not things to play pretend with.

You don’t have to tell the truth about every single mundane thing while you still Tell the Truth always about the important things. When taking responsibility for a “whole-ass human”, one truth is expendable with real world time and energy constraints and the other is not.

Note: arguing with people over something that is far more important to them than to you, something that they do thoughtfully 24 hours a day for 18 years, is...not advised.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:26 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


There’s also the matter that when parents who play shenanigans with their kids, those kids learn a healthy skepticism for bullshit and now when I try to feed them a plausible explanation that fulfills their sense of whimsy but it nonetheless wrong, they are able to explain to me that what I said doesn’t make sense with what they know. Rainbows are refracted light waves through water and unicorns are a myth but did you know daddy that the narwhal’s tusk is a sensory organ?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:40 PM on May 13 [9 favorites]


To admonish me for Bad Behavior, my mother threatened to send me back to the factory for repairs. My father just threatened to kick me downstairs, which was hilarious to me since we hadn't got any stairs. It also gave us both a moment of pride when I reported after years of hearing it that I had found the source.

My parents also told me the usual stories about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, etc., some of which I believed for a while. Once I was a little older, I tried to fool them with stories and made-up facts I'd claimed to have read somewhere (a favorite of mine was to invent surveys I'd supposedly seen in the newspaper; I got fairly good at being plausible). Let this be a warning to parents, I guess!

But I don't really see it as a warning. My view is that these interactions, these puzzles (given and received), added a certain relish to family life and probably even made me smarter, as I had to figure out my own heuristics for what's credible -- in short, build my own bullshit detector. And I had to be creative to invent good bullshit. (On preview, Slarty Bartfast makes a similar point.)

Before anyone says "well it shouldn't have been necessary because people shouldn't lie", let me point out that some of these same heuristics overlapped with the heuristics I (a kid with some autism-spectrum characteristics) needed to figure out other kinds of perfectly honest but non-literal communication. They probably helped me with other kinds of counterfactual reasoning, too. That's my defense of the genre, and a counterpoint offered -- side-by-side, not as a replacement -- to those who feel betrayed by the lies their parents told them.

What will I do when I'm a parent? Know which kind of kid I have, I hope.
posted by aws17576 at 8:57 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


My dad told me that men have one fewer rib than women, and that simple biological fact was the origin of the Bible myth that Eve was created from Adam's rib, when in fact they evolved from less-well-adapted organisms, just like everything else. As a little girl, I knew that the Bible was all made-up, and there weren't really fairies, etc., so to mess with my mind my dad always had to come up with something "scientific." I was in high school biology when I found out men and women have the same number of ribs. I'm not 100% confident even now that I've detected and eliminated all of his little jokes from my understanding of the world.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 9:13 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Slarty Bartfast: It's true that i'm not a parent. But this is really condescending: "Note: arguing with people over something that is far more important to them than to you…" Why would parenting be more important to you than me? Decent parenting is really fucking important to me, that's one big reason i'm not a parent.
posted by adrienneleigh at 9:25 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


The key is to come up with something the kid will find amusing when they figure it out, rather than shattering. Just, like, stretch the real reason into something a little fantastic.

(I don't remember my parents lying to me much, though - not past the age where I can remember anyway.)
posted by atoxyl at 9:27 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I tried lying to my kids about “dream spray”, which is a thing I learned about on Pinterest where you put some lightly scented water in a bottle and spritz some on their pillow so they’ll have nice dreams. The idea was to help my younger son who was having nightmares...but I couldn’t keep up the lie so I just told him it was water infused with lavender and that many people believe that the smell of lavender is relaxing and helps them sleep better.

He was 6 at the time, and that worked just as well as the “magical” explanation.

It’s fun to make up absurd explanations to things, but I can never keep up the pretense and end up telling my kids that I’m just “being silly”. I’m just not a very good liar.

Parenting threads are always capital-F Fraught, and it’s none of my beeswax if you tell weird/funny/scary lies to keep your critters in line, I just can’t really justify it for my own interactions.

Of course telling the truth is it’s own kettle of fish, and kids can self-censor without any prompting sometimes. The first time my oldest kid asked me if Santa Claus was real I just said “some people say he is, some people say he isn’t”, and then I braced myself for the inevitable “but what do YOU think”...and it never came. Instead he simply said “Oh. Well I think he’s real”, and that was that.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:56 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


I find personally it works best when one parent lies to the children and the other parent never does. My husband lies to kidlet all the time about nonsensical stuff. Like we are getting an elephant, or I’ve been named ambassador to France. It’s been super helpful for her BS sensor, whereas my “tell the truth” thing was so useless at developing a radar that she was falling for creepypasta before he took a hand.
posted by corb at 10:03 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


Slarty Bartfast: It's true that i'm not a parent. But this is really condescending: "Note: arguing with people over something that is far more important to them than to you…" Why would parenting be more important to you than me? Decent parenting is really fucking important to me, that's one big reason i'm not a parent.

Parenting isn't as important to you because you're not a parent. You're begging the question. You don't have to deal with my three year old's--or any three year old's--tantrum, so by definition, yeah, you don't care about my kid as much as I do. You can be childless by choice, and more power to you, I was exactly that person...until I wasn't. But becoming a parent does kinda sorta make you more knowledgeable about being a parent than a non-parent.

Oh, nevermind, you're out of here anyway. Look, I can appreciate that a lot of Mefite's parents were pieces of garbage and that people here have suffered abuse. But not all manner of parenting is abusive, and lying to young children is par for the course for the vast majority. Put down broad brush, etc etc.
posted by zardoz at 11:17 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


The key is to come up with something the kid will find amusing when they figure it out, rather than shattering. Just, like, stretch the real reason into something a little fantastic.

One of my fondest memories was of the tooth fairy, who would come to my room and leave coded messages and interesting gifts. Clearly a giant lie from my parents, but I'm still enchanted that they put in all that effort. Very sweet. I think they also had a lot of fun with it to.
posted by Toddles at 11:39 PM on May 13


I was told by a babysitter that people who let their hair get in their eyes go blind. I was terrified!

I’m a very earnest and literal person, as are my parents, so I don’t think they lied to me much. They did (lovingly) find ways to mess with me - I was notorious for leaving my shoes everywhere, so my parents started just hiding my mislaid shoes like Easter eggs around the house when they found a random shoe. They did this until I was mostly through high school. They loved this game, and I hated it. Worst of all, I learned nothing and still leave my shoes everywhere. At least they enjoyed themselves!
posted by samthemander at 12:03 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I don't think my parents routinely lied to me about much (except for Santa Claus, who I believed in for way too long). There was one story though. My mom caught my sister and I playing with some pointy object, probably a toy sword, so she told us to be careful or else we'd lose an eye. She told us that there was once a boy whose house was being worked on with power tools. The kid, seeing a hole in the exterior of his house, put his eye up to it to see if he could see through it. Right then, one of the workers drilled through the hole and into the kid's eye. When I asked my mom how she knew this, she said that she had been at the eye doctor when the kid came in and someone told her what had happened.

Over the past twenty years, I thought about that kid getting his goddamn eye drilled out a lot. Then, I randomly mentioned it to my mom and she responded, "Oh, I just made that up because I wanted you to be careful."

Unrelated, my mom was a teacher at a local community college at one point and some of her students were Vietnam veterans. She said they told her all sorts of terrible stories, but she would never tell me. Now I'm literally a Rifle Company Commander, but she still won't tell me the stories.

The end; no moral.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 12:57 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


If there is a fundamental love and trust between children and their parents, jokey fibs are not an issue.

I had an auntie (friend of my mother's) who really loved me and wanted me to love her back. She loved messing around with all kids, and she was a lovely mother to her own kids. I hated her when I was a kid, and I'm grateful that I understood the situation when I grew up and had her and her husband over to dinner a couple of times before they passed away. I hated the auntie because she was my mother's bff, and in my understanding she aided my mother in her alcoholism and abusive behavior, she was part of it. I felt she was a liar and I didn't trust her a bit. Later I could see that she was trying to help me cope, in a situation she didn't know how to deal with. Adults are smarter than many kids, but they are not gods and they have their own issues. My auntie was a sweet lady, but she couldn't save me, and I didn't get that as a child.
Don't even get me started about my mother. So I get that some people are reacting strongly to all these stories, I really do. But the problem is with the relationship between parents and children, not the stories.
posted by mumimor at 2:14 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


I imagine we can all agree that this and this are not quite the same thing.
posted by duffell at 5:17 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


My mother used to threaten us with the 'bad boys and girls home'. On rare occasions, she would pick up the phone, dial the number that gave a recorded weather report, and have a one-sided conversation saying it may be time for her to drop us off.

She also told me that if I scratched the mole on my back I would bleed to death, and if I said a bad word, dragonflies would sew my mouth shut. 

Then there are the lies she actually believes, like, 'God is watching you 24/7' and 'It's ok to vote for Trump because he will be surrounded by good people'.
posted by ruetheday at 6:18 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


If there is a fundamental love and trust between children and their parents, jokey fibs are not an issue.

That's an interesting idea. I know that jokey fibs would never fly with my son (not that I am interested in them anyway) and I wonder if

1. this is a failure of my specific relationship or
2. if autism more generally prevents this sort of relationship from forming or
3. fundamental love and trust of the sort you mention are not prevented by autism, but in that case are no longer a sufficient condition for the mutual enjoyment of jokey fibs.
posted by Jpfed at 6:50 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


My folks did the salt on the bird's tail thing. It's just a way to keep the kids busy until they figure out for themselves that it is literally impossible to get close enough to any non-maimed bird to put salt on it's tail. My mother had to explain this to me since I tended to take things quite seriously and literally. still do.

As a result of this, in the last ten years or so, I realized that my Dad has been fucking with me my whole life. It tooke me forever to clue in to it, but he does this thing where he very seriously asks me a stupid question in order to get me riled up and is greatly amused by the resulting angry/sarcastic answers I come up with. No one else can really do this to me and I just never realized he was doing it for the laughs because he'd play it totally straight. But I now know that he just truly loves the shit I'll come up with in my frustration.

For example, he asked me what was the meaning of those stickers with the stick figure family/dog/cat etc.. on the back windows of cars . So I told him it was like back in WWII when the fighter pilots would paint stencils on the fuselage of their fighters of the various enemy planes they had shot down as a way to keep score. So for example this minivan in front of us has confirmed kills of one man, one woman, two kids, and two dogs, one of which likes to play hockey.
posted by some loser at 7:05 AM on May 14 [10 favorites]


Oh I should say that what makes this technique work on me is that my Dad will propose some ludicrous explanation of his own, totally seriously and cluelessly, and THAT's what sets me off. Like I can't believe he's so daft that this was his proposed explanation, so I'll just come back at him with some even more stupid explanation to illustrate how dumb he's being. It worked for 30 years tho, so I guess the joke's on me lol. I do love him for it tho, more now that I know what the deal is.
posted by some loser at 7:12 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I have never forgiven my parents for any and all lies told to me.
posted by kyrademon at 7:19 AM on May 14


1. this is a failure of my specific relationship or
2. if autism more generally prevents this sort of relationship from forming or
3. fundamental love and trust of the sort you mention are not prevented by autism, but in that case are no longer a sufficient condition for the mutual enjoyment of jokey fibs.


I can't guess what you are assuming about me, but in general I believe that the responsibility for creating a trusting and loving relationship is all on the adult, and that includes that the adult must adapt to the child's needs, not vice versa. In my personal example, I wrote that I have forgiven the auntie who didn't understand or couldn't respond to my personal needs. That doesn't mean that she was right.
Every child with autism is different and you can't say in advance that they can never handle a "jokey fib". I know kids who love them because they can be a way of dealing with their challenges. Other children are other places and the adults need to adapt to that. I do.
posted by mumimor at 7:33 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I have weird children who have never believed childish things so I don't waste my time lying to them like this, but once my wife was at a store and our kids were being insane pills about something and she almost never just says "no", but instead says something like "that person over there is buying those and we are after them in line" and some tired looking woman once said "I ain't buying those. Take as many as you want kid and lady stop asking me to be your bad cop" without even moving her mouth or turning around and I just watched the scales drop from my kids' eyes so they question everything now. It's so wonderful. I think they are going to grow up to be accountants or lawyers.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:52 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


My grandmum used to tell me that if I ate the crust of bread I would grow hair on my chest. Now, if I was given a crust of bread to eat instead of an inner slice I had to eat it regardless, but I wanted to grow hair on my chest - My dad had nice chest hair, so sure, why not? - so first of all the lie resigned me to the inevitable and it soon meant that I soon developed a taste for and an affection for the bread crust. For one thing, if you toast it, you can put a lot more butter on it than a regular slice that will soak through. So I happily claimed the bread crust right up until suddenly the story changed.

If you eat bread crusts your hair will grow curly. Wait, what? I don't want curly hair! I want a hairy chest! And I'd already eaten lots of bread crusts, so now my hair is going to turn curly.

Yeah, she was lying. I figured it out pretty fast. She realised that, since I was a girl I would never grow hair on my chest, and in the fullness of time I was going to catch her in the lie. But you can't change your story mid-childhood. The curly hair has to be a lie too. But I now avoid eating bread crusts...

What is interesting about all these lies is how much of them are oral tradition folk wisdom - don't eat food raw to avoid worms, birds can be caught with caustic salts, don't swim in dubious water that hasn't been treated as it might be how you catch polio, when you are tired movement in your eyes will show it (true of my son who has nystagmus), Pepsi is just water and sugar (and nothing nutritious), I can tell by your face (your eyes) when you are telling a lie, and so many more. I wonder how many of these started with misunderstandings.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:03 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I can't guess what you are assuming about me

My comment was a mistake.

I was treating the statement "If there is a fundamental love and trust between children and their parents, jokey fibs are not an issue." as a universal statement to be interpreted on its own. I wasn't consciously attending to who said it, or how it might connect to the rest of your comment. I apologize if my haste and self-absorption has caused any upset.
posted by Jpfed at 9:03 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I have it on good authority that I am not a conure.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:26 PM on May 13


That’s just what your parents told you.
posted by TedW at 9:27 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


My parents didn't lie or josh, really, and so in my first job after college my boss (he was a dad! he must tell the truth!) pulled my leg SO HARD and I almost resorted to violence when I figured out that he'd been Lying for, like, 20 minutes and I had bought his (joking) BS hook, line, and sinker. The punchline wasn't funny to me, it made me angry. Lies!

So SOME parental lying is good for building up that critical thinking AND developing a sense of humor. (But I have never forgotten the Yeast is Yeast and Nest is Nest and Never the Mane Shall Tweet joke, and now kind of appreciate it?)
posted by ldthomps at 10:01 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I have it on good authority that I am not a conure.

That’s just what your parents told you.


Come to think of it, cuttlebones did figure prominently in mom's meal planning...
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:54 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


So I never really got French humor. At least not the kind that has become immortal in modern film and underlies stories like Dinner for Schmucks' original. It's vaguely cruel and reductive, slapstick with an edge of abusive righteousness, with a sort of "only an idiot can perceive truth" just-so unearned self confidence.

And lots of folks seem to enjoy it. France does, at least.

I feel the same way not enjoying French humor, predicated on a kind of casual cruelty, as I do listening to people tell tall tales to kids. Even harmless ones seem at their core to just perpetuate some story the speaker once had told to them. Sure in one form that's culture, in another it's some coded little prejudice, some just-so circumvention of reason that feels like wisdom and satisfies the teller that they're somehow inoculating the kid to untruth or bullshit. But that feels like confirmation bias at work - it feels good to perpetuate bullshit because you feel less dumb for having once believed it. It's the Royal Nonesuch, and it's hard to believe it would be such a huge loss to be the last in its perpetuation.

Fibs, make believe, imaginative play are awesome. Telling someone a lie just to get them to react, see how far they'll believe you, is a dick move at best, and testing credulousness to groom for something much worse at worst.

So, me, I choose not to do it.
posted by abulafa at 1:21 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


FWIW I don't really remember my parents lying to me about anything as part of their parenting strategy, either in the "Santa" sense or the "__ will get you if you don't __" sense. Which isn't to say they've never lied to me for other reasons, but as far as getting obedience from tiny me, they took the quite straightforward path of scolding, shouting, and punishments. Very uncontroversial I'm sure.

I do remember they once lied to my younger sibling to get her to take medicine while she was sick and only a two or three years old ("I'm going to call the police if you don't take your medicine!"), whereupon ?seven-year-old me in great confusion and indignation protested that this seemed highly unlikely and ineffective; eventually my very exasperated mother took me aside and explained the situation to me.
posted by inconstant at 1:28 PM on May 14


I...don‘t actually lie to scare my kids into doing things and I find the idea really weird? Like, bread crusts aren‘t THAT important. I dunno, maybe my kids are just really easygoing?

Things I have lied about:
* that purple bath foam is actually unicorn blood (they loved that one)
*it‘s late! time for bed!
* losing to them on purpose
posted by Omnomnom at 1:30 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


My kids can 100% tell when I'm messing with them, although with "long cons" like the time machine bunk beds and the Mean Parent Agreement, the game for them is trying to "prove" I'm messing with them, and they have so much fun doing it that I don't want to spoil it by giving in! They think of ever-cleverer questions to catch me out and I have to come up with ever-more-outlandish lies to keep the fiction going and eventually they always get me and the harder they work at it, the prouder they are when they finally win.

I never mess with them about important things, or about anything that causes them worry or distress or fear. So, like, if my mom had said that if I opened the weird basement door under the stairs, an octopus would eat me, that would have been scary. But her saying I couldn't open the weird basement door because an octopus lived in there and it would be rude to disturb him? That's hilarious, and even as a little kid I knew it probably wasn't true, because if there was an octopus there he definitely didn't care about manners. (I just really, really wanted it to be true.)

I also don't mess with other people's kids, including my nieces and nephews, until I know them well enough to know whether they get it or don't get it. In our house this kind of "messing with people" is a sort of intellectual play, and we all enjoy it. Some kids are very literal-minded or serious-natured in ways that make that kind of play unfun and unfunny, and I don't think it's cool to do to a kid who doesn't like it or doesn't get it. So I don't.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:41 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]


I still remember my dad trying to explain gravity to me ("there's actually a FORCE pulling this ball down!") and feeling very, very impatient with such a ridiculous explanation for a simple downwards fall.
posted by mosst at 1:49 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


My mom told me topiary animals grow that way naturally. And I believed it for an embarrassingly long time.
posted by palomar at 8:25 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


I don't have any kids but the favorite way to mess with my neices and nephews was to have NO IDEA who this Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus is and totally not believe them when they tell me they are real people.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:42 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


My grandmother would say the bread crust and curly hair thing to me. We live in Kentucky. And my grandmother loved curly hair.
posted by Billiken at 5:03 AM on May 15


There is a difference between lying about something real, and messing around.

Like, if I am flopped on the couch and desperately cry out that my boooooooooones are all gooooooooooone, my kid knows that's a joke, and I am just trying to get her to make me a drink.

When Daddy is trying to find the remote and it somehow involves tickling her knees and shoulders, she knows that's a joke.

The day my husband tried to convince her the house across the road being built was a kennel? That pissed her off when she realised she'd been lied to. Which was kinda funny, in terms of her reading him the riot act for lying, and him working through it with her to debunk it, but he didn't continue that with something that would actually harm her, or scare her.

The world is scary enough for kids, I don't need to add more uncertainty and fear, for either my own gratification or for control.

(Mind you it is hilarious when someone does try and fuck with her with some stupid explanation for something and she just...keeps asking how exactly the monkeys deliver the mail, or whatever. No autism, just ADHD and a methodical kind of approach.)
posted by geek anachronism at 2:47 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]




Tell a little kid that unicorns say "moo," and they will be VERY OFFENDED.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 4:38 PM on May 16



So, like, if my mom had said that if I opened the weird basement door under the stairs, an octopus would eat me, that would have been scary. But her saying I couldn't open the weird basement door because an octopus lived in there and it would be rude to disturb him? That's hilarious, and even as a little kid I knew it probably wasn't true, because if there was an octopus there he definitely didn't care about manners. (I just really, really wanted it to be true.)

When I hear anything really outlandish, I always try my best to come up with some way it could possibly be true and yet still fit into my general world view, but confronted with a story like your mother's about an octopus living behind a weird basement door, that fails, and my first fallback is trying to see some way it could symbolically be true, or metaphorically be true.

So I would wonder whether there was something behind that door that could remind your mother of an octopus, such as a furnace with thick pipes coming out of it which resembled octopus arms, or a circuit breaker panel with arm-like conduits emerging from it.

A number of those white lies had that feel; the one, for example, from the Brazilian correspondent who reported hearing that if you opened an umbrella in the house, your mom would die.

That made sense to me as a metaphor for a breech birth which might indeed kill a child's mother, because an unopened umbrella would go out of the house easily, but an opened umbrella would get stuck in the door. There's a connection with sympathetic magic too, of course.
posted by jamjam at 2:56 AM on May 17


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