It seems as if we don’t tick off our children quite like we used to, surmises Robert Drewe after a visit to his local supermarket…
Observed in the supermarket the other day: a young mother trying to reason with her four-year-old, who is determinedly stuffing chocolate bars into the trolley, one after another.
“No, Oliver. Put them back, please,” his mother says.
Oliver takes no notice, and grabs more sweets from the shelves. “No, darling. You can’t have them, sorry.”
Oliver frowns and snatches more chocolates: “Why?”
“Because then there won’t be any chocolates left for all the other boys and girls.”
This cuts no ice with Oliver. “I want them though.” And on he goes.
Mother (with a small tinkling laugh): “Gosh, if you eat all these chocolates you’ll get so fat you won’t be able to run fast.”
Could Oliver care less? Mother sighs deeply, and tries a new child-rearing tack. “I’ll count to three, Ollie,” she says firmly, and pauses for emphasis. “One. Put them back.” (No response.) “Two. Put them back, Ollie. (No response.) “Three. I said, put the chocolates, back now, Oliver!” (Still no response.)
Exasperated mother brushes hair from her eyes and speaks louder. “We have to go home now. We’re running late for Play School. Better put them back!”
Oliver, languidly: “Why?”
And I, and every other shopper in the vicinity, silently mouth the words our own mothers would have voiced from the outset (and only one time would’ve been necessary): “BECAUSE I SAID SO!”
So here I was remembering all those old mothers’ sayings, the annoying cliches that lacked any logic but were infuriatingly effective. And none more so, of course, than “Because I said so!”
How amusing, around the dinner table that evening, for us parents to recall the annoying and remarkably similar sayings of our own mothers. And to admit we might even have been guilty of using the same ridiculous phrases ourselves.
Some family-favourites down the generations, most unanswerable but sometimes successful in stopping a child in their tracks over behaviour, grammar, dinnertime habits or the threat of dire punishment:
“Were you born in a tent?”
“There’ll be tears before bedtime.”
“You’re asking for a smack!”
“If the wind changes, your face will stay that way.”
“Elbows off the table!”
“If you can’t finish your dinner, you’re too full for dessert.”
“The starving children in Africa would love your dinner!”
“If so and so jumped off a cliff/Sydney Harbour Bridge would you?”
To a nose-picking child: “You’ll lose your finger!”; “Got a miner’s licence?”; and “You won’t find any gold up there!”
Perhaps the most inexplicable mother’s saying of all, matched only by “Don’t carry on like a pork chop!” was “Who’s she, the cat’s mother?” (Huh?)
Then there was the maternal obsession with eyes: “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!”; “You’ll have someone’s eye out with that!”; Or the vague but strangely approving, “Well, that’s better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick”.
And the fixation with speaking nicely: “Use your indoor voice, please”; “There’s no such word as can’t”; “You can, but you may not”; “Say ’Pardon’, not ‘what?’”
Then there were the old stand-bys: “Money doesn’t grow on trees”; “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”; “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”; and “Don’t you make me pull this car over!”
In the olden days apparently no one lived anywhere near a school or public transport: “When I was your age I had to walk (10 plus) miles to school.”
And the final threat: “Wait till your father gets home!” Many a tired father would arrive home from work and be expected to muster some instant severity to deal with a disciplinary problem. So fathers had their own sayings:
“Don’t talk back to your mother”; “Ask your mother”; “Don’t tell your mother”; “Children should be seen and not heard”;
“Back in my day”; “What do you think this is, Bush Week?”; “Do you think I’m made of money?”; “Hold your horses”; “When I was your age…”; “I’m not asleep; I’m just resting my eyes”; “You’re not going out dressed in that!”
Fathers’ sayings also pointed out their humility: “Now, don’t go spending a lot of money on me”; “They don’t make them (anything at all) like they used to”; “Waste not, want not”; “A little hard work never hurt anybody”; “As kids we were grateful to get just a tin of pineapple and a Violet Crumble for Christmas.”
And occasionally their weary wisdom: “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
But the most important parental saying of all was the mothers’ imperative to children to put on clean underwear before leaving the house. In case you were run over by a bus. (Always a bus.)
No injuries could possibly match the disgrace of medical staff viewing your dirty knickers.
You can find Robert Drewe’s books here: https://www.penguin.com.au/authors/robert-drewe